FAS Brazil links with Google to ‘do no evil’ in the Amazon basin

FAS, a conservation organization in Brazil, has joined forces with Google’s controversial Street View activities. What are the opportunities and potential pitfalls in the relationship?

FAS (fundacao-amazonas-sustentavel) is a Brazilian organisation devoted to conservation. Yet even its best intentions can attract criticism for unintended consequences to the priceless resources of the Amazonian rain forests. For example, The World Rainforest Movement has criticised Fundação Amazonas Sustentável about its work in the Juma Sustainable Development Reserve.. Now, FAS must be bracing itself for the glare of publicity as it undertakes a project with the mighty Google organization.

Google does no evil

Google prides itself in its corporate social responsibilities. Yet its plans to capture information have been denounced as illegal and megalomanic. The company’s famous mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Its social responsibility side is captured by its equally famous motto “Don’t be evil”.

Dilemmas of privacy

A particular issue has been that of privacy and dilemmas of free speech.

Controversies and battles with governments have occurred in many countries around the world including Turkey, India, China, Germany and France over what is permissible according to national law. In the UK, the activities of its Street View operations have been seen as invasions of privacy.

Google has removed dozens of photos from its new UK Street View service. The street-mapping facility launched amid a fanfare of publicity but now the firm has been forced to pull some of the images after complaints. It is thought the pictures removed contained revealing images of homes, a man entering a London sex shop, people being arrested and a man being sick. A spokesperson for Google told the BBC that anyone could have their images removed if they asked.

Google announces its intentions with FAS

The Google/FAS plans were announced in a Google blog post

Members of our Brazil and U.S. Street View and Google Earth Outreach teams are currently in the Amazon rainforest using our Street View technology to capture images of the river, surrounding forests and adjacent river communities. In partnership with the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (FAS), the local non-profit conservation organization that invited us to the area, we’re training some of FAS’s representatives on the imagery collection process and leaving some of our equipment behind for them to continue the work. By teaching locals how to operate these tools, they can continue sharing their points of view, culture and ways of life with audiences across the globe.

We’ll pedal the Street View trike along the narrow dirt paths of the Amazon villages and maneuver it up close to where civilization meets the rainforest. We’ll also mount it onto a boat to take photographs as the boat floats down the river. The tripod—which is the same system we use to capture imagery of business interiors—will also be used to give you a sense of what it’s like to live and work in places such as an Amazonian community center and school.

In this first phase of the project, the Google and FAS teams will visit and capture imagery from a 50km section of the Rio Negro River, extending from the Tumbira community near Manaus—the capital of the state of Amazonas—to the Terra Preta community. We’ll then process the imagery of the river and the communities as usual, stitching the still photos into 360-degree panoramics.

The road to hell?

As has been observed by theologically-minded map makers, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. What should the FAS leadership do to ensure their actions keep them on a better path?

2 Responses to FAS Brazil links with Google to ‘do no evil’ in the Amazon basin

  1. Who are: “theologically-minded map makers” ?

  2. The ones I had in mind were the originator and replicators of the maxim about the road to hell being paved by good intentions.

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