FAQ :: How does Google spy on people?

Google Maps Street View has been highly criticized as an invasion of privacy. This addition to Google Maps provides eye-level views of many streets in the United States and Europe. The images are taken from cars driving along public streets, but they have inadvertently caught private moments such as the interior of a house, burglar activity and people visiting strip clubs. One couple even sued Google for invasion of privacy, but lost. [1]

Google is working on a monitoring system that will watch people at work and tell them how to do their job and much more.

The computer-vision system can watch a hospital room and remind doctors and nurses to wash their hands, or warn of restless patients who are in danger of falling out of bed. It can, through a computer-equipped mirror, read a man’s face to detect his heart rate and other vital signs. It can even recognize signs of severe pain, the onset of delirium or other hints of distress. A woman’s expressions as she watches a movie trailer or shops online can be analyzed, and help marketers tailor their offerings accordingly. Computer vision can also be used at shopping malls, schoolyards, subway platforms, office complexes and stadiums.

“Machines will definitely be able to observe us and understand us better,” said Hartmut Neven, a computer scientist and vision expert at Google. “Where that leads is uncertain.” (It will lead to a Big Brother dictatorship.)

Google has been at the forefront of the technology’s development and a source of the anxiety surrounding it. Its Street View service, which lets Internet users zoom in from above on a particular location, faced privacy complaints. Google has agreed to blur out people’s homes at their request.

Google has also introduced an application called Goggles, which allows people to take a picture with a smartphone and search the Internet for matching images. The company’s executives decided to exclude a facial-recognition feature, which they feared might be used to find personal information on people who did not know that they were being photographed. (Big Brother is using that technology.)

The future of law enforcement, national security and military operations will most likely rely on observant machines. A few months ago, the Defense Advanced Reseach Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s research arm, awarded the first round of grants in a five-year research program called the: Mind’s Eye. Its goal is to develop machines that can recognize, analyze and communicate what they see. Mounted on small robots or drones, these smart machines could replace human scouts. “These things, in a sense, could be team members,” said James Donlon, the program’s manager.

Millions of people use products that show progress has been made in computer vision. In the last two years, the major online photo-sharing services–Picasa by Google, Windows Live Photo Gallery by Microsoft, Flickr by Yahoo and iPhoto by Apple–have all started using face recognition. A user puts a name to a face, and the service finds matches in other photographs. It is a popular tool for finding and organizing pictures.

Kinect, an add-on to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 gaming console, is a striking advance for computer vision in the marketplace. It uses a digital camera and sensors to recognize people and gestures; it also understands voice commands. Players control the computer with waves of the hand, and then move to make their on-screen animated stand-ins –known as avatars– run, jump, swing and dance. Since Kinect was introduced in November, game reviewers have applauded and sales are surging.

If the results at Bassett prove to be encouraging, more features can be added, like software that analyzes facial expressions for, said Kunter Akbay, a G.E. scientist.

This technology could be beneficial: a person thinks twice and a crime goes uncommitted. Yet it could also lead to a society that is less spontaneous, less creative, less innovative (The main purposes of Big Brother spy cameras is to compel people to be mindless robots.)

Google’s Goggles application lets a person snap a photograph with a smartphone, setting off an Internet search. Take a picture of the Eiffel Tower and links to Web pages with background information and articles about it appear on the phone’s screen. Take a picture of a wine bottle and up come links to reviews of that vintage.

Google could have put face recognition into the Goggles application but it decided against it because smartphones can be used to take pictures of individuals without their knowledge, and a face match could retrieve all kinds of personal information–name, occupation, address, work place. “It was just too sensitive, and we didn’t want to go there,” said Eric E. Schmidt the chief executive of Google. “You want to avoid enabling stalker behavior” [2]

You can be assured that Big Brother is using facial recognition software to do what Google does not want the little people to do. Many researchers believe that Google is a front company for the NSA and CIA but we can’t be sure. Nevertheless, individual privacy is not one of Google’s concerns.

First Google dominated the Web with search. Then it ruled mobile devices with Android. Now Google wants to control everything inside your home.

At its annual I/O developers conference in San Francisco in May of 2011, the company previewed Android@Home, a future platform that will allow you to interact with practically any electronic device you own using Google. Connected devices like home media equipment, dishwashers, cars, and lights could soon be able to be controlled using the new platform. “We’d like to think of your entire home as an accessory, or better yet as a network of accessories, and think of Android as the operating system for your home,” said Joe Britt, head of the Android@Home.

Android@Home was developed as an open protocol that can be used by any connected device and controlled by any wireless device or computer, including non-Android devices like Apple’s iPhone or Microsoft’s Windows PCs. Google’s partners say that while they expect Android devices to be the first to use the new platform, other mobile device makers will follow suit. [3]

[1] “Google Earth’s Street View: Public Boon or Privacy Invasion?” www.engin eeringdaily.net/google-earths-street-view-public-boon-or-privacy-invasion.
[2] Lohr, Steve, “Computers That See You and Keep Watch Over You.” New York Times. 1.01.2011.
[3] Goldman, David, “Google Wants to Control Your Home.” Money.com. 5.11. 2011.