Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Technology Against Privacy

There are a variety of technologies that are having an impact, or will soon have an impact, on the privacy of nudists. In photography, it is illegal to take (or at least publish) someones picture if they have a 'reasonable expectation of privacy'. (See this site, 'Private Facts' section.) Nudists have that expectation, but technology has been creeping closer and closer to show private things to the world. Presented here is a list of technologies that you should know about, what impact it may have, and what you can do about it.

World Brain
Some people call it the 'world brain', but it is commonly called Google. The apparent idea behind Google is to collect all of the world's information and make it searchable and accessible. They like to collect and cache the entire web, including blogs, finance info, images, news, patents, products, business info, academic publications, videos, code, and physical books that aren't even online to begin with. Google willingly offers to collect and host your email, events, conversations, photos, videos, groups, RSS feeds, documents, notes, blog posts, web site, custom homepage, and even your medical records. They'll gladly proxy your internet connection and crawl through your computer for you. In fact, it knows just about everything on earth (and beyond). I like the fact that my entire life is archived and searchable, I'd just prefer that it wasn't online and accessible to others! Google isn't the only one doing this, but they are the biggest example.

Impact: You have an identity online, and if you participate in nudist websites or groups using that identity, others might be able to find out.

What you can do: Keep multiple identities and keep things separate. It's difficult! Or, just be an open nudist and let others find out.

Google Maps / Earth
(Click all images for full-resolution. Pictured is the Terra Cotta Inn.) As you know, Google offers a map service that includes Satellite images. The resolution (pictured) is pretty good for cities and some other areas, but is horrible for most rural areas. Even in the best images people can't be seen and cars can't be identified.

Impact: None, yet. Future images will likely be higher resolution.

Windows Live Maps
They aren't actually 'live' as the name implies, but they have good-resolution imagery for all of the US and some other countries. People still can't be identified, but cars might be. (Pictured is the Mazo beach parking lot.)

Impact: None, yet. Future images will likely be higher resolution.

The world is full of webcams -- just take a look at the EarthCam index. There are many cruise ships that have webcams on them as well. Luckily, Bare Necessities hasn't booked any cruises on ships with webcams so far, and there are no known webcams at nudist venues or nude beaches.

Impact: None yet, but new ones pop up all the time.

Google Street View

Since the satellite pictures can't get close enough, Google decided to take pictures from the street. Pictured here is the entrance to Sun Ray Hills. Most roads are covered in the US, especially around bigger cities. Luckily, most nudist venues seclude themselves from street view, and most nude beaches are far enough from the road where people can't be identified. However, the street view might clearly show you or your car in the parking lot of a venue or beach. By chance, it may also capture you as you enter the door.

Impact: Street view might indicate that you are entering or at a nudist venue or beach.

What you can do: See what Google shows, and file a complaint or lawsuit if it shows you at a nudist venue. This infringes on our reasonable expectation of privacy, and Google should not show that you attend a nudist venue without your permission.

Windows Live, Bird's Eye View.

Now is when things get questionable... To compete with Google's street view, Microsoft decided to fly planes and capture a "bird's eye view" with pretty good resolution. (Click the images -- first is VVRC, second is Cyprus Cove.) You can see people, and you can easily identify campers and cars. Plus, this doesn't stop at the street -- it's a close view into private property! This view covers a surprising amount of the US.

Impact: People can clearly see your car, and RV/camper, even when inside nudist venues.

What you can do: Same as with Google street view, if you think your car or camper can be identified by others. Try a take-down notice first.

They have always been a problem for nudists, and many venues do a pretty good job of keeping them out. But it's shifting to more of a trust-based system, because cameras are getting tiny. Cell phones now have cameras that are higher resolution than my SLR, and the functionality of the phone almost requires them to slip past the gates so people don't miss important phone calls.

Because of the tiny size, spycams can be placed anywhere. This is a big threat to nudist venues! Don't believe me? Then check out this baseball cap with an embedded video camera. Everything is in the cap, and is wirelessly beamed far enough to reach your backpack. Luckily, it's still well beyond the budget of most perverts, but give it time...

For something more in-budget, PDA's and cell phones connect wirelessly to the internet or to each-other and have integrated cameras. Software has been made to turn them into remotely accessible webcams. If someone leaves their cell phone sitting somewhere, it might be doing more than just sitting!

Another problem is GPS integration into cameras and cell phones. Images that are taken are automatically geotagged with the GPS data showing exactly where the picture was taken. (You'll see why this is an issue next...)

Impact: Has always been a big issue, but geotagged high-resolution pics from tiny cameras that everyone has make things worse. Spycams are small enough to hide anywhere, and even an innocent cell phone can become one.

What you can do: Venue owners should have a no-cameras policy, or have a dedicated area where cell phones can be used (check messages, make calls, etc.) Everyone needs to be very careful about people taking pictures. Approach them if they are taking pics, and ask them to delete them and leave. If photos are published without your permission, take legal action. For spycams, devices exist that detect the wireless transmission, or that find cameras by looking for the reflection of the lens. Check into any conspicuous PDA's or cell phones laying around.

Flickr Maps

You may think that pictures can get lost in the shuffle, but then a new tool comes along to sort them out. Flickr is somewhat aggressive in figuring out where pictures were taken. They look at tags, comments, the title, and geotag data embedded in the image from the camera. Then, of course, people can search by location. Zoom in to your local nudist venues to see what pictures were taken there. Google's street view and Microsoft's bird's eye view get close to the action, but Flickr gives you a high-resolution look at private property and private situations.

Impact: Pictures can no longer get lost in the shuffle -- any that were ever taken at a location (and are on Flickr with location-specific information) are shown.

What you can do: Same as with cameras. Check the Flickr Map to see if any have been taken of you in the places you've been.

Polar Rose
You may not know about this one, but it's certainly another big privacy-busting service. This service is a Firefox plugin that detects people in pictures. If people know the person in the picture, they can tag a name to them. Then, Polar Rose uses face recognition technology to identify that person in all future photos. For example, someone tags John Smith in their family reunion picture. Later on, someone else cruising Flickr maps sees that picture of four people in the nudist hot tub, and Polar Rose happily points out John Smith. That's not good!

Going a step further, entering "John Smith" in the search box at Polar Rose's website results in showing every picture on the web in which John Smith has been recognized. Your work or family might not stumble upon your nude pictures and recognize you, but Polar Rose will, and it's only a search-box away.

Impact: Currently not much since it's still being developed, but will get much bigger over time. Search your name from time to time to see what comes up.

What you can do: Unless your an open nudist, don't post photos of yourself online. Polar Rose claims that it will have privacy functions and an adult content filter, but I wouldn't trust them. Another big concern is photos being taken of you. A wide shot at the beach, or the Google street view image could still show you well enough for Polar Rose to figure out who you are.

Update: This functionality is being rolled into Google's Picasa and Facebook. As I said before, it's getting bigger all the time!

There are lots of neat things going on, but sometimes they unknowingly intrude on our privacy. It's better to know about these advances, and prepare for them, than discover them when it's too late. It's quickly becoming more and more difficult to hide our nudist side (if we choose to) from family, friends, and work. If you'd like to continue, be very careful. Otherwise technology might make your nudism public. It would be nice to continue having the option of privacy, but we're slowly losing it to things beyond our control.


Rick said...

Most technological advances in the last 20 years (or more) have taken away from our privacy. Very few have actually give us more privacy. Even your bank transactions are no longer between you and your bank; they share it with the federal government. Big Brother is alive and well.

Tom Mulhall said...

Hi Mike,
This is Tom from The Terra Cota Inn. Do you see me waving at you in the google earth picture you have of my resort in your post. I'm the one with the big smile, (just teasing).

I agree, technology just gives politicians more ways to spy on us.

marry said...

Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

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Anonymous said...

I'm worried about the facial recognition technology. I've read reports that they want to develop it for videos also!
Also the increasing up-close maps that might show me somewhere. Facial recognition software is even in some security cameras now!

Cameras will get very tiny when gigavision sensor comes out.
Also worried about sites like infousa.com
Another thing that can track people online is the increasing technology of literary comparison. These programs (authorship attribution tech) might one day be used to link anonymous comments to 1 person.

My family & relatives are as anti-nudity as they get, so I must be very careful online. If they & the church folks found out i'm a nudist, it would be very bad for me. This is why when I move out I don't want to see them again, except maybe mom (such a religious barrier also).

To stop search engine bots from caching a site & stop other stuff like future literary comparison bots, I think there is a robots.txt code thing to block them, but this might only work on certain sites.

But anyway u have a great post, & since my nudist-hating family is online I try to keep up with the latest.