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Sociological Perspective on Privacy

An article entitled “Call to shut down Street View” was published online by BBC News on March 24, 2009. It reported an event when Privacy International has filed a complaint against Google Street View to the Information Commissioner. Simon Davies of PI said that privacy issues, specifically, on grounds of “clear embarrassment and damage” that had been inflicted on British citizens. Meanwhile, Google responded by reiterating that they established privacy protection measures through its face-blurring tool feature accessible on Google Street View.

The complaint pointed out that data on Street View came under Data Protection legislation which requires subjects’ permission before information is gathered, and in this case is not being implemented. (BBC News) Sociological Perspective on Privacy The call to shut down Street View is an event that is worthy of sociological investigation. This article introduces sociological concepts and theories to interpret how people behave in a society, where high interconnectivity is commonplace. Sociology is basically the systematic study of human society.

It is therefore essential that focus should be directed on patterns of behavior exhibited by groups and individuals that are related to the said event. To be able to articulate the social behavior/s found in this event, a theoretical paradigm is needed. Symbolic-interaction as the chosen theoretical paradigm narrows down attention to micro-level and serves as guide on how to interpret social interactions found in this specific event. The concept of privacy is explored using theoretical approaches in sociology.

Symbolic interaction paradigm sees society as product of everyday social interactions. On a micro-level analysis, this paradigm can be appropriated for the interpretation of new areas of interest such as technologies and how it functions and affects social interactions. Google Street View is one of the many new technologies of this century. Together with satellite images publish on the web, it employs images of streets in major cities of the world. And of course, along with the images of buildings and roads, it gathers detailed and recognizable images of people.

One of the theories of symbolic interaction paradigm, Goffman’s dramaturgical analysis examines social interactions in terms of roles or theatrical performances. One of its concepts is impression management. The presentation of self or impression management are behaviors that intend to established specific impressions in the minds of others. (Macionis 102). The highlight of the event illustrates how people behave and react when their public identities, manifest as the display of Street View images of their recognizable faces, are being risked or subjected to a compromising situation.

Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical analysis couldn’t be more apt as a way of examining this role-centric trait of privacy-seeking individuals. The mention of roles brings to the discussion the concept of idealization. Idealization can be defined as the humans’ construction of performances to idealize their intentions. (Macionis 106). To help illustrate how this concept plays a role in the event, we should cite a scenario. If an individual, as a professional, works at his or her best efforts to establish a desirable reputation on a society, it is expected that he or she does whatever it takes to elude embarrassment.

What if this individual’s recognizable face is published on Google Street View where it can be seen that he or she is involve in a compromising act? Then, everything that this individual has worked for and idealized for are, as a consequence, being compromised and dismissed. Given this situation, it is manifest that avoiding embarrassment can be a possible reason why privacy is valued. Interestingly, the face-blurring tool that is accessible on Google Street View illustrates the concept of tact. “Saving face” or tact, according to Goffman, is basically helping someone to avoid or to alleviate embarrassment. (Macionis 106).

Symbolic-interaction paradigm is only one of the three sociological approaches that we can employ to examine this event. Structural-functional paradigm views this event in terms of functions. Merton’s concept of manifest and latent function, helps to articulate how the technology and human behaviors interplay. Using Google Street View as an actual-image interactive map for tourists, navigators, travelers, pedestrians, commuters and drivers are some of the manifest functions of this technology-society structure. Latent functions, however, are the unrecognized and unintended consequences as indicated by Robert K.

Merton. (Macionis 177). Stalking, spying and playing pranks on individuals by using their images which are readily accessible on Google Street View may account for the latent functions in the context of a highly-interconnected society. Social-conflict paradigm views this event as the interplay of society’s opposing forces where modernity is seen as class society. (Macionis 496). In the particular event, class society is not readily recognizable since the definition of class is almost always associated with socio-economic status.

Perhaps, it is safer to see the opposing forces at play if we treat them as social entities, and in this case as organizations. Google as a corporation and Privacy International as privacy rights official of the public can represent the two opposing forces at play, with each party having its own goals, interests and its own definitions and norms of the concept of privacy. Symbolic-interaction, structural-functional and social-conflict paradigms are three sociological theoretical approaches were employed to introduce the importance and use of sociological perspective.

In the efforts to see the general in the particular and the strange in the somewhat ordinary; patterns of behavior, opportunities and constraints and active observation of a particular event were revealed by focusing on Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical analysis. The concept of privacy was most clearly articulated through the observation of social interactions in everyday life. Works Cited “Call to shut down Street View. ” BBC News. 24 March 2009 <http://news. bbc. co. uk/2/hi/technology/7959362. stm> Macionis, John J. Society: The Basics. 9th Edition. Prentice Hall, 2006 Additional Pages: Copy of News Article

(Text lifted from BBC News Site at this address: http://news. bbc. co. uk/2/hi/technology/7959362. stm) Call to “shut down” Street View A formal complaint about Google’s Street View has been sent to the Information Commissioner (ICO). Drawn up by lobby group Privacy International (PI), it cites more than 200 reports from members of the public identifiable via the service. PI wants Street View shut down while the ICO investigates the service. “The ICO has repeatedly made clear that it believes that in Street View the necessary safeguards are in place to protect people’s privacy,” said Google.

Privacy International (PI) director Simon Davies said his organisation had filed the complaint given the “clear embarrassment and damage” Street View had caused to many Britons. Speaking to the BBC, Google boss Eric Schmidt, said: “We agree with the concerns over privacy. “The way we address it is by allowing people to opt out, literally to take anything we capture that is inappropriate out,” he said “and we do it as quickly as we possibly can. ” He added: “We are getting controversy over street view because it is so successful.

It turns out that people love to see what is going on in their local community. ” Private and public Mr Davies said Street View fell short of the assurances given to the ICO that enabled the system to launch. “We’re asking for the system to be switched off while an investigation is completed,” said Mr Davies. “The Information Commissioner never grasped the gravity of how a benign piece of legislation could affect ordinary lives,” he added. In July 2008, the ICO gave permission for Street View to launch partly because of assurances Google gave about the way it would blur faces and registration plates.

Since Street View launched in the UK on 19 March, PI has been contacted by many people identifiable via the service. Among them were a woman who had moved house to escape a violent partner but who was recognisable outside her new home on Street View. Also complaining were two colleagues pictured in an apparently compromising position who suffered embarrassment when the image was circulated at their workplace. The ICO said it had received the complaint from PI and would respond “shortly”. It added: “It is Google’s responsibility to ensure all vehicle registration marks and faces are satisfactorily blurred.

“Individuals who feel that an image does identify them (and are unhappy with this) should contact Google direct to get the image removed,” it added. “Individuals who have raised concerns with Google about their image being included – and who do not think they have received a satisfactory response – can complain to the ICO. ” Safeguards “Data protection is a question of taking reasonable steps,” said Nick Lockett, an IT lawyer with DL Legal. “If Street View is infringing privacy then almost anything you can do with data is going to be infringing privacy,” he added.

Struan Robertson, a legal director at Pinsent Masons, said he did not think the turning on of Street View would result in court action against Google for breaching privacy. “That’s largely because we have got rulings from the courts on when a photograph risks privacy rights and when it does not,” he said. Recent cases in the courts have revolved around whether the focus of a camera was on an individual. Google’s Street View, which snaps the whole scene, would seem to pass that test, he said. Responding to the filing of the complaint, Google described it as a “publicity stunt”

In a statement the firm said: “Before launching Street View we sought the guidance and approval of the independent and impartial Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). ” Google said the ICO had re-iterated its confidence that Street View did enough to protect privacy. “The fact that some people have used the tools in place to remove images shows that the tools work effectively,” it added. “Of course, if anyone has concerns about the product or its images they can contact us and we look forward to hearing from them,” it said.

Mr Davies said the ICO should take another look at Street View because of the promises Google gave about the efficacy of its face-blurring system. In its complaint, PI said Google’s assertion that its face blurring system would result in a “few” misses was a “gross underestimation”. This meant, said the complaint, that the data used for Street View came under Data Protection legislation which requires that subjects give permission before information is gathered. “The promised privacy safeguards do not provide adequate protection to shield Street View from the general requirement of notice and consent,” said the complaint.

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