Talking to an acquaintance over email the other day, I was taken aback when he asked me when I'd exchanged my old car for a new one. As I hadn't, I asked what had prompted this inquiry. He lives at the other end of the country and hasn't ever been to my house, but he'd happened to wander virtually down our street on Google Street View (he knows my address) and seen a visitor's car parked on my driveway. So I thought it would be interesting to ask what else he could discover about my house and lifestyle, in particular from a security and privacy point of view.
A couple of days later the results were in. Google maps confirmed that I have a fishpond in the garden which might contain valuable fish, and a conservatory at the back so there is likely to be a vulnerable patio door; which is not easily visible from the road or from other houses. There are trees next to our house that could provide useful cover, while the wooden front and back doors would probably not take a huge amount of effort to force open.
As well as a large well-maintained garden, there's also a garage that's likely to house valuable tools and garden equipment. The patio furniture also looks as though it stays outside all the time. And we're only a mile or so from the motorway, so an easy and quick escape with stolen goods is available. Mind you, he also confirmed that there are many more desirable cars than mine parked on the street and driveways around us; he particularly fancies the Mercedes CLK just a few houses away.
I know that we really shouldn't expect much privacy these days, and that persons with nefarious intentions probably always cruised around the more affluent areas sizing up opportunities. But how much easier is it now to case the joint remotely with absolutely no chance of arousing suspicion? Want a new Range Rover in dark blue? A few hours on Street View will find you one, and maybe even give you some idea of how easy it will be to break in and steal the keys.
Mind you, I can't help wondering why there are so many cars parked on the street and on driveways. There's about a twenty houses around us and all have at least one garage, yet I know of only one person besides me who ever puts their car in it. Most people seem to think it's more important to store worthless junk there and leave a valuable car outside.
Of course, as any newsgroup or forum will tell you, worrying about stuff like this is just a sign you are paranoid. Street View doesn't show anything that isn't visible from the street, and the satellite images are supposedly too fuzzy to reveal anything useful. And you can always complain to Google and get your house or car removed or blurred; which, of course, just makes it even more interesting and attractive to virtual nefarious passers-by.
But thankfully our faceless bureaucratic rulers here in Europe are looking after our privacy. Starting this month they will be enforcing the new browser cookie rules that ban the use of tracking cookies without obtaining a user's prior consent. So at least when your car, garden tools, patio furniture, goldfish, and everything else valuable have been stolen you'll be happy in the knowledge that you can visit all your favorite websites without seeing targeted adverts.
Unless they also stole your laptop.