Resistance to Locative Media: Google Germany

On: November 1, 2010
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About Mareline Heijman
Prior to the master New Media, I've completed the ba Media & Cultuur at the University of Amsterdam. Interests: virtual reality, identity, future, creation, the way new media shapes us.


The Germans proof that castles in the skies can be actualized. A real act of resistance to power has been put . More than 244.000 German internet users requested Google not to photograph their houses for Google Street View. The navigation service caused a lot of commotion. Earlier this year vandals in Germany have sabotaged a Google Street View car. The photographs of houses and random pedestrians are said to violate principles of privacy. Google decided to NOT take up the houses of the protesting citizens in Street View.

What does this mean? Is the collective action a precursor to a revived era of resistance by means of the internet? One could say that the German case is a perfect sublimation of the activated citizen in the struggle for power. But rather than making explicit use of the empowering potential of the internet, citizens just got fed up with the ever increasing personal data gathering by governmental and commercial institutions through the internet. The users couldn’t do anything really but request politely if Google wanted to stop displaying photographs of their private spaces and belongings. Or violate a car.

In the case of Street View, the tension between locative data and privacy is challenged. And some people aren’t pleased. We need to be aware of all the tensions at stake here. I’m talking about privacy versus publicity. Of possibilities versus constraints. And subjection versus empowerment. Software changes the way we think about what we do. Street View makes visible in what ways we are “giving up” anonymity and privacy of private spaces. The German internet users maybe felt limited in their freedom, concerned about their privacy and subjected to the power of Google as a company turning their data into money. Although the above might not be exactly the sort of protest theorists of the internet have been fantasizing about, at least it shows that people do experience limits when it comes to twisted power relations. In addition actually do something about it. “Hold on, this is not the way it should be done. I’m going to send a request”. When enough people agree and join in, companies are under fire.

Have we reached the frontiers of geographic data and surveillance now? Are locative media only a temporary hype such as the individualization doomsday stressed by mp3 players? Remember that? Only a few years ago, people feared that everyone would increasingly be occupied by his/her own tuneful space, living in his own private bubble due to headphones shutting the users off the social environment. I rarely spot earphones at public spaces anymore. Even though they’re still apparent, the excitement has faded. Yes of course, people still carry their hot digital gadgets, but the social aspect of new media devices has been evident. For example think of Nintendo’s Gameboy, think of kids blue little faces gazing into the screen(s). Gameboy DS now has made it possible to go online and share Pokémon, games and pictures, and to mail and chat with their pals.

Main point is that even though technology might be to a large extend beyond control of the common citizen, technological developments are not entirely unstoppable and forced upon us. Future horror images of real time mapping showing everyone everywhere on the exact moment, are not reality yet. When we’re not happy with any technological circumstances, we at least could try to do something about it. Who knows. I’m not trying to say people should go ahead and abuse cars and stuff. Really. Maybe sending an email will lead to a result similar to the verity Google allows users to delete disputed photos.

EDDY, M. AP (2010) Google: 244,000 Germans say ‘no’ to Street View
AFP (2010) Google Street View car vandalised in Germany – police

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