Street Life

It could be said that criticising the media is like shooting fish in a barrel. True, and therefore it is the ideal sport to engage in when you want to dash off a quick blog post. So here it is.

Google Street View is a “service to burglars”

announces the Daily Telegraph. It concerns the fact that 95% of Britain’s roads are now covered by the Google Street View service, knowledge that immediately made me check whether our house is now featured; and I’m delighted to say that it is. But how can Street View be a burglar’s aid, I wondered? Burglary surely is an activity requiring the burglar to be in close proximity to your house at the time, typically after “casing” it from a number of different angles while standing immediately adjacent to your property. How can a 2D picture taken of your house an indeterminate time ago be of any assistance? Time to read further into the report.

Google Street View, which has now been expanded to cover more than 95 per cent of Britain’s roads, is being seen as a “service for burglars”, according to new research.

Hmm. I see what you did there. The words “service to burglars” in the headline were placed between speechmarks, so you think you can get away with it, but I’m not sure you can. I don’t think that the fact that research suggests that Street View “is being seen” as a service to burglars can justify a headline saying the Street View “is a” service to burglars, do you? And what of the evidence gleaned from this “research”?

The report, which was carried out by a discount website,, found that two-thirds of the people polled thought that Google Street View images were ‘intrusive’.

The company interviewed 1,317 people – 57 per cent of which described the street mapping service an ‘intrusion’ while 24 per cent said that they believed it was simply ‘a service for burglars’.

Right. So this isn’t so much “research” as “market research”; or rather, it’s a survey. Now, let’s put aside the fact that unless they asked two separate questions on whether the interviewees found Street View both “intrusive” and an “intrusion” (and I doubt it) then the Telegraph thinks it’s reasonable to equate “57 per cent” with “two-thirds”. Instead let’s focus on the statistic – if that doesn’t debase the term – that informs the headline: the fact that 24% believe Street View is “simply ‘a service for burglars’.” In other words, the only thing that even attempts to justify the statement in the headline is the fact that just under a quarter of the people surveyed agree with a statement as put to them by the survey team. Presumably, then, any question that a researcher deems to ask, and which anyone feels they can agree with, can be portrayed in a Telegraph headline as a fact that researchers have unearthed. Amazing.

But perhaps I’m being unkind? Perhaps there is something, somewhere in this sad article that can support the assertion that Google Street View is a service for burglars? What do the police have to say on the matter?

Thames Valley Police told The Telegraph there was no evidence to suggest that the service caused an increase in burglaries.

Well what would they know? I’d rather go with the opinions of a quarter of the people who were asked to agree or disagree with a statement when they were stopped in a shopping precinct as they were racing to the butty shop in their lunch hour and no they couldn’t really stop but will it be quick oh alright then. Any day.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you our best-selling quality daily.

Update: The Telegraph has now updated its headline to a more anodyne “Google Street View: survey raises privacy concerns”, which is more accurate, especially seeing as the survey literally did raise those concerns by asking the questions in the first place. The rest of the article remains intact, to the best of my knowledge.