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Security & privacy

Google Street View knows more about you than you think

The amount of data that is collected about us is staggering. Be it anywhere from your online habits, what groceries you buy, political leanings, to how long you sit in line at a coffee shop.

The data are used for marketing and consumer research mostly. It is stored in databases that researchers can call up and compare to other data to make conclusions or even solutions.

But artificial intelligence is changing the game.

Street View sees a lot

The first thing about Google’s Street View is pretty obvious, it takes pictures of whatever it sees. This makes some people uncomfortable because of privacy concerns.

Researchers at Stanford have taken it a lot further. They found a way to use artificial intelligence to scan the images and process what’s in them. Before AI, computers could search large amounts of data looking for keywords or text-based indexes, but couldn’t search for a red truck.

The computer didn’t know what a red truck looked like. But now, through AI, computers are learning what a lot of things look like.

What it knows about you

Since Street View has millions of images, it would take years for a human to sort out what’s in all the pictures. With computers, it took two weeks to scan 50 million pictures.

And when you compare the images to other data you can find some interesting things. Like if you drive an extended cab pickup truck, you are more likely to be conservative. Drive a sedan, more chances you have a liberal point of view.

The AI was able to accurately predict income, race, education, income segregation, and even pollution in certain areas by just scanning the pictures. And it makes sense when you think about it, you know if you are driving through a rough neighborhood or a fancy one, now a computer has figured it out.

The computer system had to be trained at first. So humans had to basically teach the computer what a 2017 Ford truck looked like compared to a 2002 Ford, or a Honda from a Toyota and so on. Once it was up and running, it was off to the races figuring out demographics in the test neighborhoods.

And just as Google Street View raised privacy concerns, using computers to now mine that data will be just as controversial. More and more cameras are entering our world; think about self-driving cars. They are loaded with cameras and sensors.

Will that data be your property or Google’s? How are we allowed to use it?

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