Street With a View, the Surveillance Camera Players, and useful data vs. creepy data

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While considering the privacy implications of Google's Street View, Pittsburgh artists Robin Hewlett and Ben Kinsley conceived Street With a View. "(I)nstead of dwelling on the darker undertones of these issues, we began to think about ways of playing with the system," Kinsley said in an interview with the Associated Press.

They staged several scenes, including the marching band seen above and an attempted third-story escape via a bedsheet rope. The Google Street View team agreed to go along with the fun by driving the Street View vehicle down Sampsonia Way to capture the sights.

This stunt made me think of the Surveillance Camera Players, albeit a decidedly less protest-y version.



As a data manager, I often think about the line between useful data and invasion of privacy (creepy data). Comparing these two art projects inspired me to think of where Street View and surveillance cameras lie on what I call the "continuum of creepiness."

On my personal continuum, Street View occupies the "a little weird" end. Surveillance cameras are much further down, toward the "Microchips! The end time is near!" side.

I think it is a little odd that one can see into my windows via Google Street View, but it does not actually bother me. (My only Street View regret is that I was not photographed as a pedestrian by the Street View van. When it first went online, I "walked" all over my neighborhood to see if I could find myself.)

Conversely, surveillance cameras annoy and concern me a great deal.

I think part of the difference lies in the stakes involved -- so what if Google Street View reveals that I have an inordinate number of houseplants in my apartment? I'm willing to give up that bit of data in exchange for the ability to virtually walk down streets all over the world.

The stakes involved with surveillance by the state are so much higher. If a mistake is made (and there is no such thing as a 100% accurate data set), it may result in wrongful imprisonment, extraordinary rendition to some crazy top-secret overseas jail, etc.

Another distinction is the sheer volume of data involved. The more data you collect, the greater the risk of creepiness. Surveillance cameras collect a lot more data than does Google Street View, which is composed of still shots. Compare this to the real time footage of a surveillance camera, which may even be linked with other data. The thought of someone seeing a photo of my houseplants is non-threatening; the thought of someone being able to watch my movements is incredibly unnerving.

As data collection and collation capabilities expand, notions of privacy are rapidly evolving, and can be strikingly different from person to person. One person's useful data is another person's creepy data.

Where does Street View land on your personal continuum of creepiness? How is this different than, or similar to, your feelings about surveillance cameras?