Geo-Immersive Technologies & the Male Gaze

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 6:45 PM
Room: 303
Distributed Paper
Stuart HARGREAVES , Faculty of Law, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong
Geo-immersive technologies are a set of nascent services that digitally record public spaces and then make the imagery accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. The best known is perhaps Google’s StreetView service.  This paper argues that by transmitting images of public spaces to anonymous groups of billions, far removed both spatially and temporally from the site of the initial public behaviour, these technologies form a new kind of public street surveillance.

This paper shows that certain images captured by such technologies are increasingly harvested by anonymous users, who seek out photographs they find notable and re-share them.  Such ‘notable’ images frequently include images of topless women, or women sunbathing, or women merely dressed in a fashion the anonymous crowd feels is worthy of comment.  This paper argues that geo-immersive surveillance thereby replicates the male gaze in a manner that has adverse impacts for the claims of a range of equity-seeking groups, particularly but not exclusively women. 

In most jurisdictions, such photography is nonetheless largely unregulated. Individuals are typically treated as having no reasonable expectation of privacy while in public and thus are granted no legal recourse to prevent such “street photography” or seek ex post facto remedy.  At the same time, Google and other service providers make no efforts to enforce copyright over the imagery they publish, and thus certain photographs tend to rapidly go ‘viral’, increasing their potential to create harm. 

This paper suggests that this situation demands regulatory change.  The balance between privacy claims in public and legitimate claims for freedom of expression through ‘street photography’ must be better struck in a way that acknowledges the differing ways in which surveillance is experienced by different groups, who may be more susceptible to surveillance-related harms.