Asking Google’s Permission to See Your House

Filed under: Uncategorized — geoLibro @ 5:50 pm

Last Monday (2006.08.07) CarbonCloud revisited an earlier post about democratic access to geospatial data in light of a recent development on Geowanking.

"As we all know," he writes, "Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have all started providing different kinds of location content to consumers and technical folks alike through mapping services, allowing a bit more ‘democratic’ access to location-based content."

And it’s true. But the development that warranted a revisit involves Google’s exclusive license to imagery data such that a nonprofit agent looking to get a little piece of a picture of the earth is refused and given this:

"As you are a non-profit, you might be able to convince Google to allow for
this application."

My guess is this doesn’t make me as fearful as other people. It sucks, for sure. But in the same way it sucks that I can’t get a Pepsi on any college campus I’ve been on in the last 5 years, that it’s Coke or nothing. My point is that it’s just not surprising in the least. But what about this democratic access issue? If the surge in social networking is destroyed by a rush to license and own the highest-resolution data, I’m not going to get all that busted-up over it. Social networking is very, very interesting, and really a delight of this age. But it’s not vital except in its ability to democratize a social network into a movement. In other words, if an emo kid’s MySpace goes away the country isn’t necessarily worse off (argument appreciated). But if a watchdog blog gets shut down? More appropos still: if a civic agency, nonprofit, or even just a politically-minded individual becomes unable to do GIS should they want to; if their access to the same geospatial data and tools and applications that their governors have gets closed off, probably by those governors; if they are made less unable than before to draw, model, test, analyze, represent, and write their own spaces (be they neighborhoods or gerrymandered political districts), then a true failure of democracy will have occurred. The only variable in that equation is whether Google is a governor as such.

And what of libraries, erstwhile protectors of information and data (probably more often than not protectors from governors) and professed bastions of academic freedom and democracy? Very few of us are collecting and archiving geospatial data, except that which perhaps comes through the GPO. And none of us can compete with a commercial powerhouse of any kind, least of all Google (should they go evil as people fear). Maybe if we team with Coca-Cola?


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