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Your House Is About To Be Photographed 491

Posted by kdawson
from the little-brother dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Photographers from a Canadian company are going house to house, shooting pictures of every house in America, in hopes of building a giant database that can be sold to banks, insurance companies, and appraisal firms. While this activity is legal (as long as the photographers don't trespass on private property to get their shots), there are obviously concerns about security and privacy. Considering that an individual can be detained and questioned by the FBI for photographing a bridge in this country, why should this Canadian company get a free pass? Tinfoil hat aside, something seems very, very fishy here." From the Arizona Star article about the photographing of Tucson: "'The [handout given to people who complain] made it sound like they're doing it for law enforcement, when in reality they're doing it for sales and marketing,' said [a City Council aide], who received several calls about the company."
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Your House Is About To Be Photographed

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  • by Vengeance (46019) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @02:26PM (#17908974)
    I have to put up my 10 meter wide 'FUCK YOU' banner.
    • Re:That reminds me (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @02:28PM (#17909034) Journal

      I have to put up my 10 meter wide 'FUCK YOU' banner.
      not for nothing, how about putting up a banner with original text and a copyright notice? Then they can't distribute without permission... and you could set your price for distribution rights.
      • by Vengeance (46019)
        Oh dear god, that's BRILLIANT.

      • Why doesn't the architecture of my house fall under this rule? I know that professional photographers have to be careful when taking photos of a city because certain building owners will not allow photos of their business. Wouldn't the same rule apply? Are they going to get signed releases from everyone?

        • Re:That reminds me (Score:5, Informative)

          by Hijacked Public (999535) * on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @02:44PM (#17909330)
          Because there is a photographers exception to the portion of copyright that covers architecture. Photos taken from a public place of a building that is in public view don't require any kind of permission from the building's owner to be distributed or used.
          • by HTH NE1 (675604)
            Unless it is owned by the (or in some cases, just a) government. Then they can not only prevent you from taking pictures, they can force previously taken pictures to be redacted (satellite pictures of nouveau-sensitive sites).

            Note also the article's comment about bridges.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            Just put the source to DeCSS in there.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by SatanicPuppy (611928) *
          That was actually shot down a while ago...Basically, if you can see it from public property, you can't claim ownership of all pictorial representations.

          In addition to property-release issues, you also need to think about copyright concerns vis-à-vis buildings if they were built after December 1, 1990. Before that, buildings did not have copyright protection and were thus, by definition, in the public domain. Shoot away.

          In general, buildings erected after December 1, 1990 do not pose a big problem eithe
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by MattPat (852615)

        how about putting up a banner with original text and a copyright notice?

        Or better yet, why not just blow up a page from XML for Dummies? Same legal protection, without the need for any thought. ;) And plus, you don't need to deal with the legal fees, the publishing company does!

        • The publishing company will not spend the legal fees for the one page. Now if everyone used a different page, you can view enough houses to read the entire book.
    • by j00r0m4nc3r (959816) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @02:33PM (#17909130)
      Mine will say, "Take off, eh, hoser!"
    • Be sure you make a copy for your roof for Google Earth.
    • by What the Frag (951841) * on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @02:39PM (#17909236) Journal
      No, you should print on the banner:

      "Your 30 day free trial of Photoshop has expired.
      Please purchase the full version to remove this sign"

      or

      "Thank you for using a pirated version of Photoshop!"
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      I was thinking that I hope I see them coming, so they can get a picture of the "full moon".
  • No more putting off mowing the lawn.
  • paranoid (Score:5, Insightful)

    by udderly (890305) * on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @02:27PM (#17909018)

    What seems "very, very fishy?"

    From my understanding, this has always been legal. Where we live, the size, configuration, value and tax record of your house is public information. So what would people do with this information that is so sinister?

    • What would people do with this information that is so sinister? How about simple invasion of privacy, or even home invaders using the info to case your house and cut off avenues of escape, etc., all with the convenience of sitting at their computers?

      I have another idea.

      Instead of allowing any personal information to become public property, why not treat personal information as personal property? Only the Government can have it for free. Everyone else already profits from using your personal information, why
  • by NiteShaed (315799) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @02:29PM (#17909054)

    why should this Canadian company get a free pass?
    I am outraged! Not only do I not want Canadians taking pictures of my house, I don't even want them seeing it! I say blindfold 'em at the borders....or better yet, gouge out their eyes! Can't just have people wandering around and looking at buildings that are in full view of a public road, it'll be anarchy!
  • There is no way they can get within sight of my house without trespassing on private property. And the view to satellites and planes is obscured by trees year round.
  • by subl33t (739983) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @02:29PM (#17909060)
    ... to our forthcoming invasion. Do not be alarmed.

    Actually we have invaded the US 47 times in the last 10 years, but nobody noticed.
  • by Slightly Askew (638918) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @02:30PM (#17909076) Journal

    Very little of my house is visible from public access. However, driving a hundred yards or so down my driveway will offer you a nice, clean picture. The first time I see photos of my house which I know had to have been taken from my private property, can I have their asses thrown in jail for trespassing?

    • can I have their asses thrown in jail for trespassing?

      I don't see why not. It may be kinda hard to prove exactly who to throw in jail, though. I doubt these Canuks will be be taking pictures of themselves taking pics of your house. Then there's all the extradition hassle...
      • Then there's all the extradition hassle...

        "Eh, we're not aboot to extradite someone over thar just for trespassin'."
  • Already been done (Score:5, Interesting)

    by saddino (183491) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @02:31PM (#17909088)
    Ever hear of Zillow [zillow.com], the real estate "estimator"? They already have detailed pictures of homes in many major U.S. cities, from four different angles (taken by plane, natch). These aerial shots, of course, blow sat images away when it comes to level of detail.
    • They use Google maps to do a mash-up. It's a very clever site.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      We (local county government) use a company called Pictometry (www.pictometry.com) that sells us oblique images from 4 different angles with 6" or better resolution (satellite is often 1 meter at best). Basically, we can see any structure in our county from multiple angles. We can also compare them against time. (hey, when did this big deck show up, and where are the permits?)

      As for those who think that having trees right up to the building is a good idea to block the camera, lets just hope that you dont hav
  • Every new advance in technology comes with new fears. I mean there have been peoples who thought that making an image of you was to steal your soul, so the camera was especially scary. Now we're worried that it will steal our privacy/security. All it does is eliminate obscurity, which as we all know, is no security. Frankly no one's home is very secure without monitoring, which itself is something of an invasion of privacy (for one thing it pretty much gives the cops the right to come on your property and

    • That is why I surround my home with dozens of dummy homes filled with broken electronics. Security through obfuscation!

      BTW, I want my soul back from the Kodak company.
    • by danpsmith (922127)

      You don't need to open a door when a sledgehammer will get you through pretty much any wall. With a 10lb sledge with a 3+ foot handle, you can go through pretty much any siding including fake rock, wood planks, plywood siding, you name it.

      Please save the details of your stalking habits for the arraignment.

  • Considering that an individual can be detained and questioned by the FBI for photographing a bridge in this country, why should this Canadian company get a free pass?

    Ummm... because... they aren't photographing bridges?

    Actually, they should be chased out of townsimply for being a bunch of bloody Canadians.

    HA HA HAAAAAAAA! Canuck bastards!

    I tease. :)

  • by sinij (911942) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @02:31PM (#17909106) Journal
    I fail to see why pictures taken in legal way (I'm not talking about trespassing or even breaking-in to take interior pictures) is useful in any way? What bank or real estate agent would gain from picture taken from the street? More information is currently readily available - most people post detailed pictures of interior and exterior when they sell houses, this information only needs to be archived and categorized to get better result than this project can hope to archive.
    • Because umm, people lie. Either way an outside picture can give you a rough estimate of the homes value. I wouldn't use it for buying or selling purposes. But something like a home equity loan might be done just based on a picture like this.
    • actually, my fiance and I use the service from our county assessor's website [cookcountyassessor.com] while we look for houses because it's often a more direct and closer shot than what you find on real estate sites, especially for newpaper ads. of course, this is nothing new.
    • Ditto that. Plus, there's no way they're not going to end up with a database full of cruft. Even though they say they've "developed proprietary software and systems to continuously maintain and update the database as properties change and redevelopment occurs." I would take anything from this company with a grain of salt, at the least. (Recent!) Historical sales prices from the local area are probably more useful for most of the purposes they're marketing this for.

      Truth be told, it kind of strikes me as a

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by susano_otter (123650)
        Real estate agents already pay for a small army of photographers to go criss-crossing the country. It's almost a career for many people. I used to date a guy whose job was exactly this, to go take pictures of houses.

        The only thing going on here is what always goes on in commerce: somebody sees an opportunity to profit from specialization. Instead of having each real estate agent hire their own photographer, why not specialize in real estate photography, build a catalog of photos, and sell it to real estate
  • There is some good in having a 3/4 mile driveway :)
    I just have to remember that when it snows...
  • ...a modification of REFLECTION PORN!!! If there's a way of knowing when they will be photographing your house, you could stick an LCD monitor in your front window displaying a goatse.
  • There is good and bad in this. On the good hand I can see how this would be an invaluable historical resource. How awesome would it be if we had a pristine and exhaustive record of the location of all properties from ancient Rome, or even WWII?

    On the bad hand one cannot help but wonder what kind of harmful uses this database could be used for.

    As we are getting more and more data storage I am starting to wonder how much privacy we are going to have left in a couple decades...in a century? Well, I won't be to
    • "How awesome would it be if we had a pristine and exhaustive record of the location of all properties from ancient Rome, or even WWII?"

      Wait until some poor homeowner in Rome finds out that there is a lien on their house because Maximus Gallus didn't pay his sewer bill in 155 AD.

      "It makes me wonder if the disappearance of privacy would be so bad after all?"

      Be careful what you wish for. Some people shouldn't be naked in the privacy of their own homes.
  • by benzapp (464105) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @02:35PM (#17909162)
    New York City did this in the 1920's, and still does it to this day. Several private firms also do this.

    Anyone ever hear of propertyshark.com? [propertyshark.com].

    Yeah, pictures of every building in Manhattan, and much of prime Brooklyn. They also have the tax photos from the 1970's.

    • by djtack (545324)
      Where I live (midwest US) we already have this. The county tax assessor has a photo of every house on their public web site. It's really no big deal, and I've actually found it useful at times.
  • This is a tale of two cities. Cities of the near future, say ten or twenty years from now.

    Barring something unforeseen, you are apt to live in one of these two places. Your only choice may be which.


    --The Transparent Society [davidbrin.com]
    Here come the future, barreling down from Canada in a three piece suit...
  • by Phat_Tony (661117) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @02:37PM (#17909190)
    I'm a proponent of strong privacy rights, but if they're just photographing the view of your house from the street, I fail to see how they're doing anything invasive of one's privacy, they're simply cataloging trivially publicly available information. Anyone can drive down the street and see the house. Presumably, on any given day, on most of these streets, hundreds or thousands of people drive down the street and see the house anyway.

    Using something like a high-powered zoom lens to try to shoot pictures inside the house through the window, or trespassing on the property to better see the house, or driving a cherry picker down the street to take hard-to-get views over privacy fences and such would be different. But I don't see how the regular pedestrian view from the street can be considered "private." Presumably anybody with your address could get the same view by going there anytime. And to look it up in this company's database, presumably they've already got your address or could easily retrieve it from other sources. They're just changing the ease of access to this information, they aren't making any "private" information that wasn't previously accessible available, they're just changing the costs of accessing publicly available information.

    If you care about people not obtaining information they can get from glancing at your house from the street, then you need a privacy fence or something to conceal that information.
    • by Qzukk (229616)
      they're just changing the costs of accessing publicly available information.

      Which the government considers as grounds for censorship when it's THEIR privacy they are trying to protect. There are plenty of maps that show military installations or nuclear reactors, but when you can get them from Google and not the disused lavatory in the basement, it's time to cover it up.
  • .... taken? Or is the fact that it's a non-American company doing it the real issue?
  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @02:38PM (#17909204)
    A couple years ago in Seattle we had a photographer accosted by police because he was photographing a railroad bridge - they told him he needed permits etc. from the city and from Homeland Security or the FBI. When someone actually bothered to check with both federal agencies, their replies basically amounted to "no, that's silly".

    What it sounds like (to me anyway) is a number of local agencies get overly zealous at times. I suspect part of the problem is there hasn't been much, if any, guidance provided to local law enforcement from the feds. Another part of the problem is these people, from the feds on down, seem to be flying the security ship by the seat of their pants, and worrying about what's actually legal/illegal later - the old "Shoot 'em all, and let God sort 'em out" philosophy.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ScentCone (795499)
      Another part of the problem is these people, from the feds on down, seem to be flying the security ship by the seat of their pants, and worrying about what's actually legal/illegal later - the old "Shoot 'em all, and let God sort 'em out" philosophy

      You may have that a little backwards. I think that most of these people are deathly afraid of the parasitic lawyers (or grandstanding politicians) that will descend like a plague of locusts on whatever municipality's police department didn't stop an actual ter
  • boring job (Score:5, Funny)

    by planckscale (579258) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @02:39PM (#17909226) Journal
    "Okay Joe, here we go, 1135 MegaComplex Way. Unit 134, Los Angeles, CA 90202."

    "Number 134?"

    "Yeah"

    "It's just a door with a number?"

    "Yeah like the last 133 units we've shot dumbass"

    *Click*

    "Okay got it"

  • It is not illegal to take pictures of bridges and many other public places reguardless of what various law enforcement agencies say. The only laws on the books against taking pictures that will get you in actual trouble are military installations and nuclear power plants and peeping Tom type photos of private residents, unless you are some sort of pop star sunbathing nude in the back yard. As long as you are in a public place there is not a whole lot they can do to you, besides maybe some annoying or inti
  • They've been doing this in a lot of areas for a long time. Here in the chicago area, the cook county assessor's office [cookcountyassessor.com] will show you the front view of almost any building if you know the address.
    I'm sure this is nothing new, especially for highly populated areas. This company of couse could offer to provide updated photos, but the service itself has already been here.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @02:44PM (#17909338)
    I built a facade exterior house outside my actual house with a tinfoil lining. The pretense house has a different address on its mailbox and I use MAT (mailbox address translation) to forward all mail to my real house. I keep all the windows and doors on the proxy house closed. This combined with a good cinder block firewall keeps me safe and from broadcasting my real address TO THE WORLD!
  • I run the IT Department for a small County. I can tell you that this is nothing new or special. We are constantly being hit up by one company or another that wants access to our tax payer database and our property assessment records. These companies mine our data and resell "comparables" to real estate agencies, banks and property appraisers. They always ask for imaging if we have it as well. Here the assessors visit your property once every two years to evaluate your home for tax purposes. Every time on si
  • The [handout given to people who complain] made it sound like they're doing it for law enforcement, when in reality they're doing it for sales and marketing,' said [a City Council aide], who received several calls about the company.

    Their site mentions that emergency services would benefit from the service, which they are allowed to use for free. It mentions they would be shown the daytime/warm-clime (ie snow free) pics so they can plan responses to that particular location. I imagine it would be helpful
  • Maybe this is the motivation I need to put the engine, that is suspended from the tree, back in the car that is on blocks in my front yard. Wouldn't want to give the world the impression that the US is a back water, uncivilized country...
  • by Fulkkari (603331) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @02:53PM (#17909488)

    Don't know where it came first, but here in Finland a company called Igglo [igglo.fi] photographed every house here a couple of years ago. There are now photos of every building online. And I have to admit, that if your buying or renting something it sure is a very nice service. But I understand the privacy issues. There was some protest over here especially about photographic single-family houses. And I actually saw these guys photographing the house I live in. My first impression about them was to call the police. Kind of funny later on when I figured who they were.

  • If your house is copyrighted, they will have to give you royalties.

  • Insurance companies should instead put their money into having USGS images taken more often, resulting in more-often-updated aerial imagery which we ALL can use.
  • by logicnazi (169418) <logicnaziNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:08PM (#17909766) Homepage
    First of all the bit about them getting a free pass is just absurd, despite what the TSA does the idea of these precautions is to catch terrorists not make sure everyone is annoyed equally.

    Secondly I think it is unfortunate that the distinction between privacy and anonymity is so often blurred. This technology does not infringe on your privacy, the front of your house is visible to any passerby and has undoubtedly been published in some picture on the web or a newspaper already. Nothing that was not previously visible to complete strangers has been revealed. All that has changed is that it is now easy for people to find that information and make use of it. In other words your anonymity has been reduced though your privacy has not been affected (they aren't always so clearly cut but here it is).

    Now I find it pretty ironic that the same vocal slashdot lobby that is so strongly against any sort of free speech restriction or data lockdown technology seem to think that we can and should do something to stop the loss of (physical) anonymity. Frankly the two goals are fundamentally incompatible.

    As it gets easier and easier for people to post information to the web they will do it. Today we have camera phones, tomorrow we will have glasses that record video, recognize faces and code geographic information into that data. Either you pass draconian laws that prevent people from posting the snapshots/movies online or that data will eventually be there, and sooner or later better search and geographic information will make it possible for search to organize it in ways that let people determine what city your in on a given day (face recognition on photos taken that day) and certainly they will be able to track down a picture of your house.

    This sort of loss of anonymity is inevitable if we don't want to give up our freedom. It isn't all bad, after all this is the way people lived in small towns for most of history. But so long as we keep whining about it rather than facing up to the fact we make sure that it will be lost in the worst possible ways, i.e., useful features that expose the information to us will be stopped but governments and corporations will be able to use it as they wish. What we need to be doing is making sure that anonymity is lost equally, i.e., we don't get situations where the ghetto is filled with cameras but the suburbs are not (it is too easy to demonize 'other' people when the unblinking eye isn't trained at 'your kind'), and beefing up genuine privacy protections in the face of this loss of anonymity.
  • by mrbooze (49713) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:31PM (#17910138)
    The Cook County Assessors office already photographs homes and makes the photographs available online.

    http://www.cookcountyassessor.com/ccao/startres.ht ml [cookcountyassessor.com]

    You can just search by address and find a lot of the public information about private residences online, including photos in most cases (in all cases in the small sample I've tried).

    I wonder how common this is with other regional governments?

  • by zyl0x (987342) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:33PM (#17910166)

    Tinfoil hat aside, something seems very, very fishy here.
    Excuse me while I get a little OT and take this statement a little personally (and probably get modded appropriately), but this is a point I think us Canadians need to start emphasizing more regularly:

    As a Canadian-born citizen, I'd have to agree with you. There is definitely something very wrong with Canadians being able to take pictures of your public property, while you are not. Maybe I'm just misinterpreting the tone of the above statement. But if anything, this should help open your eyes to the problem America has with overreacting to everything. In my opinion (and an opinion also shared with a lot of other non-Americans) a lot of American citizens don't seem to realize the problem isn't with other countries, it's with your country. You need to lighten up, as a nation.
  • My home has an EULA (Score:3, Informative)

    by sweller (1037306) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:53PM (#17910554)
    ... by taking a picture of my home, you agree to all of the terms and conditions outlined in my home's EULA. Those terms include a 99.99% revenue share on any income related to use of said picture...
  • by guruevi (827432) <evi@smok[ ]cube.be ['ing' in gap]> on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:54PM (#17910566) Homepage
    Ad Space. I'm hardly home, so I don't care that much. But I'll start selling parts of the exterior wall for ad-space. They can photograph all they want, I don't care.
  • Free Pass (Score:3, Informative)

    by nick_davison (217681) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @03:57PM (#17910630)
    Considering that an individual can be detained and questioned by the FBI for photographing a bridge in this country, why should this Canadian company get a free pass?

    Who said anything about them getting a free pass?

    The FBI detains people they have reasonable grounds to be suspicious of plotting an act of terrorism. If they suspect these people of plotting terrorism, they'll most likely detain them until their story can be confirmed too. There's absolutely no difference in treatment nor any kind of free pass being given.

    Similarly, if the guy photographing the bridge contacted the local police department and said, "Hey, I'm going to be photographing such and such a bridge. If you want to run any background checks to verify I'm not a terrorist, go right ahead. No, you can't tell me not to do it - it's a legal right - you can only confirm I'm doing it for lawful reasons which I both am and am giving you an opportunity to check in advance." they would most likely have completely ignored him. I'm guessing, to simply avoid hassle, this company's going to have a prepared statement and will contact local PDs before going in to each area too.

    In short, it's totally legal to do things like film a scene of a kidnapping but you're most likely going to get temporarily detained if you don't notify the police first. Film companies don't get a "free pass" either - they simply make sure the police are notified. The same goes for fears of terrorism and photographing potential targets and fears of burglary and and photographing homes.

    Is it unfortunate that we're in a world where the gut reaction is to arrest first and ask questions later? Sure. But that should be addressed on its own merits rather than accusing people who're smart enough to recognize it sadly happens and thus take precautions of getting some kind of a free pass.
  • Oh Crap! (Score:4, Funny)

    by rthille (8526) <web-slashdot@@@rangat...org> on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @04:00PM (#17910720) Homepage Journal
    This article just made me realize that my neighbors can see the front of my house and even know when I leave and come back.

    Oh, my privacy! We need to outlaw neighbors...

    On the other hand, when I forget to close my garage door, one of the neighbors will probably keep an eye on the place to make sure no one walks off with stuff, and may even walk over and close it for me. Nice thing about having neighbors where you know their names...
  • by b0bby (201198) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @04:35PM (#17911384) Homepage
    This is really no big deal. Amazon had trucks driving around with cameras taking pictures of businesses for A9 a while ago. There are services for real estate agents to take pictures of houses, as well as it being common practice for appraisers. Google has sat images, local.live has aerial shots, many MLS services have "neighbor photos" sections with pictures of surrounding homes. Your house has probably been photographed before, and it'll probably happen again. I do like the idea of a banner though ;)
  • Not Every House (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @05:13PM (#17912110) Homepage Journal
    To get close enough to photograph one of my houses would take at least a 20 minute drive in a 4x4, across *private* property. If they try that, i get to shoot them as trespassers.

    I also agree this is fishy. While i do realize its legal to stand in the street and take pictures of anything you can see, including people's private belongings, perhaps this legalty should be reconsidered. Whatever happened to 'expectations of reasonable privacy in public'?

  • by 644bd346996 (1012333) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @05:58PM (#17913038)
    My county government already does this. Photos from the road are included on the web page for each property in the online database. Anybody can access the county site and find out the size, tax value, date of last zale, zoning info, etc. The database is searchable by name or address. There is no need for a corporation to sell this info when it is already a matter of public record.
  • Royalties? (Score:3, Funny)

    by AlbionTourgee (918996) on Tuesday February 06, 2007 @06:10PM (#17913268)
    Hey, I think I own some of the design elements of my house. I don't see how they have the right to sell images of this without paying me a royalty. So, what about writing any of these services a short note letting them know that I don't consent to them using images of my house for their for-profit business. Well, actually, on second thought, I might consent if they're willing to pay me a royalty I consider sufficient. Okay, a man's home ain't his castle any more, but a man's design must still be copyrighted if Micky Mouse is!

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