Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Using Google Earth to make $75,000

Just another case of learning from my students...

In class today, we were discussing Google services, including the advanced Google search options, image search, and Google Maps. It came out during class that the town of Riverhead, NY used Google Earth in a very interesting way. People started getting summonses for having illegal pools, and it came out that they were using Google Earth to find this out. Really! Turns out they wrote about $75,000 worth of summonses before people caught on and complained.

NPR did an interview with the chief building inspector of the town, and he said they did it for the protection of the neighborhoods, saying "I use it strictly for safety." Of course, there is some validity there, because as he states, there are requirements to make sure children don't drown, and I agree with that. I also think that, well $75,000 had something to do with it. I'm a little cynical when someone won't admit to that. Of course money making is part of it. It's not just about safety.

In the "DUH" statement of the year, he stated "Most of the people that complained were the ones that didn't have the permits." Of course those are the people that complained, because they were the ones who were directly affected and may or may not have had their right to privacy violated.

The town is no longer doing this, so I think that tells us how they feel about whether it was a good decision. If they thought it was, they would have kept on doing it. My opinion? As someone who worked for a company doing government contracting, we were told that the government could not spy on its own citizens. The government tried to implement domestic spy-satellite imaging through the innocuous-sounding National Applications Office, but this idea was withdrawn over privacy concerns. If the government can't do it using our own satellites, why can they do it using Google's? Again, my opinion, they shouldn't be doing that, but that's me.

The other interesting part is Google. This sort of use of Google Earth is not prohibited, either in the main terms of service or the government agency terms of service addendum. Yes, I checked. In theory, this is fine per Google's viewpoint. Then again, they haven't updated the terms of service in a while.


Anny said...

Legal or not, that was pretty ingenius of the town. I wonder how else they would issue summonses - would a neighbor have to report it? In order to raise $75,000 they had to have fined a lot of residents; I wonder how many of those pools had been there for years without anyone knowing they were illegal.

It also makes me wonder how else Google Maps could be used.

Armando M said...

It's not cheating unless you get caught, and both parties cheated the system; the house owners cheated for a pool and the city cheated for the money.