Google (what on) Earth?

7 Aaron Falloon

This week American giant Google has been dragged into a diplomatic row with the Hong Kong government over a video posted on its subsidiary, YouTube, appearing to show a Cantonese man being assaulted by a policeman in the process of being arrested. The incident mirrors that of Rodney King in America which sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots and brought an overhaul to policing. The difference between this new incident and a sign of the times is that the camera man who videoed Mr King had to send his footage to the local TV news station to get it aired hours later, while the incident in Hong Kong was uploaded to YouTube in a matter of seconds.

Google has refused requests from the Hong Kong government to take the video down along with 24 other inflammatory items uploaded to their affiliate brands. To do so, in their view, would make a mockery of the constitution and their right to Freedom of Speech. But how far can Google go in citing their freedom of speech as a basis in garnering unprecedented access to people’s everyday lives?

Let’s start with something a bit more trivial, the Happy Slapping phenomenon. A fad which started in the mid noughties and died out towards the end of the decade. School kids would choose and slap an unsuspecting victim whilst videoing it on their camera phone and uploading it to YouTube. Whilst I’m not suggesting in any way  that Google/YouTube are an accessory to assault, they have a duty of care and such postings should be reported to the police or at least flagged as malicious content. Instead it is the responsibility of the viewer to report these videos and is left to YouTube’s discretion whether they are taken down or not.

Now something a bit more current and raw. Leytonstone train station was the scene of an unprovoked terror attack which was captured on camera phone and, yes, uploaded to YouTube. Having happened on Saturday the video is still online whilst the defendant appeared in court yesterday. Whilst the attacker’s guilt seems beyond doubt, in other circumstances judges may deem that these videos prejudice the jury and may inadvertently result in a mistrial.

Google’s Earth and Street services were launched to provide people with panoramic views along streets and birds eye view vantage points all around the world, however they have come under some criticism regarding privacy concerns ranging from the farcical (stills of people sunbathing in their gardens) to the more serious (capturing of sensitive government buildings).

The ‘Truman Show’ effect the internet has had on day to day life has not only been a curse but also a cure. Police constabularies have smartened to the fact they can use YouTube to their advantage and in accordance with families, have begun posting missing person footage online. This gives any missing individuals a three dimensional existence and soundbite which is restricted through the traditional poster. It can also be credited with the rise of citizen journalism, so we no longer need to rely on big broadcasters for our consumption of media content.

Google for me has been a game changer, and has advanced and enhanced millions of people’s professional and private lives. They don’t always get it right, and I’d be the first to call them out and send an email if I felt something was amiss. But maybe not from my Gmail account!

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