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Google Sued Over Privacy Invasion On Street View 481

Posted by Soulskill
from the by-boring-couple dept.
mikkl666 writes "A couple from Pittsburgh has sued Google because a photo of their house appeared on Google Street View. They are demanding in excess of $25,000 to make up for the 'mental suffering' and the diminished value of their home. Their street is apparently marked with a 'Private Road' sign, and they claim that putting a photo of their property online is an 'intentional and/or grossly reckless invasion' of their privacy. Google, on the other hand, claims that this lawsuit is pointless since anyone can ask them to have pictures removed without legal action. We've previously discussed some of the privacy concerns surrounding Street View."
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Google Sued Over Privacy Invasion On Street View

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  • I warned them (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Metasquares (555685) <slashdotNO@SPAMmetasquared.com> on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:42AM (#22979386) Homepage
    I had the opportunity to speak with some people on the Maps team when I interviewed with Google and mentioned that they need to address the privacy issues of street view before someone sued them, whether it was technically illegal or not. They didn't listen, and I can't say I'm surprised by the result.
  • by KDR_11k (778916) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:43AM (#22979394)
    Telling people that there is no damage because you can ask for something to be removed is silly IMO, that doesn't cover the time it was up until the request was followed and I dislike the idea of opt-out in general, asking someone for permission should happen BEFORE acting, not just acting and telling people they have to come to you to revoke their permission.
  • Re:Don't go there. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Smallpond (221300) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:52AM (#22979440) Homepage Journal
    Unless the street is posted "No trespassing" then I don't see how it makes much difference whether its a public or private street. Under PA law (ob. IANAL) if it isn't posted, you'uns can go there. By the way, my guess is that these people moved to Pittsburgh from out of state. PA folks aren't very lawsuit-happy in general.
  • Re:Don't go there. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Emmef (803757) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:54AM (#22979450)

    Here's what makes this case different than the other StreetView suits... the Google van wasn't supposed to be on this road in the first place.
    So sue them for damages arising from unlawful trespassing. But I don't see how this makes the invasion of privacy case any different from others.
  • by iamhigh (1252742) * on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:58AM (#22979478)
    I can understand your point. Doing something and saying "but you can have it reversed at a later date" doesn't mean you are free and clear of doing the wrong thing in the first place. But...

    Google has the option of removing the pictures... it is a courtesy. They are doing this as a service to the public with (IMHO) no ill will. So just ask for your pics to be removed and move on... really who would have found the pictures before they made all this stink? Only those that knew about where they lived, their address and had some reason to be curious about them. Those people could have just drove there anyways (with regular google map technology), so should we be suing over that as well? Google is a kind neighbor at this point, and they act like one by letting you request removal. So be a good neighbor and just ask for removal and move on with your life... suing is so lame at this point.

    I used street view the other day to see what the drive to a location I had never been to would look like. And sure enough it came in handy as I remembered what landmarks looked like from the street (which probably wouldn't have happened from the satellite view). I see the usefulness and I don't want to see it go away.
  • Re:Thank you google! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BountyX (1227176) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:03AM (#22979500)
    There are many benefits to what google is doing...but pretty much anything they touch loses its virginity...I mean privacy. Thousands of private servers have been indexed on google becuase people dont understand the privacy issues created by indexing information (infact whenever I need the latest [INSERT SOFTWARE HERE] and I need good download speeds becuase torrents are too slow... I just google index of /[INSERT FILE FROM INSTALL HERE]. Most private servers are completly unaware they have been indexed. Google aspires to be an all-knowing thing. Guess what, if you know everything, theres nothing private about that. I believe that a centralized information resource such as google is on a fast track to dangerous. That indexed information should be deleted after a certain time.
  • Re:Don't go there. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Arslan ibn Da'ud (636514) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:08AM (#22979520) Homepage
    I'm no lawyer either, but what if there is a 'no trespass' sign that is obscured by foliage? Lots of street signs are hidden or covered by leaves during the summer, and last I checked the Google StreetView photos are taken during the summer months. I've a sneaking suspicion the lawbooks don't say what happens then. That's a lawyer bonanza, though not much good for the family or Google.
  • Mental Anguish? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dlc3007 (570880) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:12AM (#22979544)
    What must your mental state be if a picture of your house appearing on the internet can cause you "mental anguish"? They either must have a very easy life to make this small matter appear relatively large, or they must be teetering on the brink of the abyss for something this small to be a threat.


    Either way, they must have a very strange life




    oh, yeah... I guess they could be looking to make a quick buck.

  • Re:I warned them (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Metasquares (555685) <slashdotNO@SPAMmetasquared.com> on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:15AM (#22979562) Homepage
    They asked me how Google's services could be improved. It wasn't a demand, it was a suggestion, and one that seems to have turned out to be a good one.
  • Re:I warned them (Score:5, Interesting)

    by csoto (220540) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:23AM (#22979612)
    You have no expectation of privacy with regard to Google Street View photographs, or any other "shutterbug" snapping pictures on your street, provided the photos were taken from public property, and were not done in such a way as to grossly invade your space (telephoto lenses into your bathroom window, for example).

    Here's a good article that points to guidelines from people who go to court to defend their members' rights to do what is in their rights (Google's Street View team would be wise to join up):

    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/andrewkantor/2005-12-29-camera-laws_x.htm [usatoday.com]

    From what I understand about the equipment and methods in use by the Google Street View project, I wouldn't expect them to be in violation of the "zoom lenses" provisions in any "invasion" statute in these states.

  • by WCMI92 (592436) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:49AM (#22979752) Homepage
    vs "Opt In"

    Whenever a company operates from "consent by omission" (by not getting permission first, as in "opt in" they are opening themselves up for such questions.

    Frankly, I dislike a lot of what Google is doing with this feature. There is a big difference between showing street level photos of commercial areas and residential areas. I think Google has crossed that line here.

    If Google operated on an "opt in" basis they'd be using those photos with permission and thus, be immune from lawsuits.

    Frankly, Google is acting more like Microsoft and less like Google of 4-5 years ago every day...
  • by vertinox (846076) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:58AM (#22979822)
    Then maybe they shouldn't do that?

    What about all of us that want to be on Google maps? I thought it was cute that our street was on Google maps. There is nothing invasive about taking a picture of your house. Unless, they stick a camera in your window or hope a fence then most persons will have no problem with someone just taking a picture of their house.

    I think the sticking picture of this incident was that in order to take a picture they had to go past a sign that said "Private Property" which is trespassing.
  • Re:lol.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by value_added (719364) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:09AM (#22979906)
    I just love it when people grab any occasion to try to sue as much money as they can from large (and rich) companies, no matter how ridiculous it sounds.

    And I just love it when people make inflammatory, knee-jerk statements (and then get modded as "insightful" by those similarly inclined) suggesting that a lawuit of $25K is the same as as much as they can, then go on to imply that the basis for that suit was a large (and rich) compan[y].

    Look, their residence was on a private road. Chances are if you value your privacy, this is where you'd choose to live. And if you can afford to live there, chances are equally good that you'd be inclined to defend that privacy. Taken in that light, bringing suit for $25K is as low as it is fair, even more so considering it would cause financial hardship to no one, but could make up for your perceived invasion of privacy.

    There are some real (and interesting) issues in this case. Your post contributes nothing but noise to that discussion.
  • by VampireByte (447578) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:30AM (#22980070) Homepage
    Remember last month when a Danish journalist was talking on his cell phone and wandered into a woman's lawn? She came after him with a gun [cnn.com] of all things!
  • Re:Diminished Value? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Thinboy00 (1190815) <{thinboy00} {at} {gmail.com}> on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:43AM (#22980188) Journal

    Google should countersue the couple for mental anguish for having to deal with another completely frivolous lawsuit and the stress on the employees that it creates. Also for defamation of character and libel.

    200 million should be a good value.

    1. Put potentially objectionable image up

    2. Wait for lawsuit

    3. ??

    4. Profit!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 06, 2008 @11:04AM (#22980340)
    Well, the FA does indicate that they are also suing for trespassing, in fact. Just RTF... oh nevermind.

    BTW -- they also ask not only that Google remove the pictures from Google maps, but also destroy all the original data too (and remove it from anywhere on "teh interwebs" too), something I am guessing Google doesn't do with the little "opt out" form.
  • Re:I warned them (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @11:11AM (#22980404)

    I could insult that reply in similarly vague terms, but just for kicks, I shall annihilate it point by point.

    First this is a non-story legally and financially until we hear otherwise.

    That doesn't mean it isn't of interest to the many people already discussing it on this forum.

    If they believed they were doing something that wrong, they wouldn't have done it in the first place.

    Yes, because corporations have never been known to do things that are unethical or even outright illegal just to make a quick buck. That's why there are so many happy Enron shareholders in the world today.

    Their strategy of putting everything up and then removing things only when requested is the only privacy approach that is technically feasible.

    No, I'm sorry, but I'm pretty sure there's another possibility that's technically very easy to achieve: they could just not systematically collect photos of people's homes without consent in the first place.

    No-one is forcing them to run this system. The fact that it's difficult to do so in a way that complies with what I claim most people would agree is common decency (they were even going onto private property in this case!) is their problem, and it's one they need to overcome if they want to run the system.

    Your stance is BS legally.

    No, my stance is that if the law allows this behaviour, then the law is BS. That is not the same thing.

    You also make it sound like this is some devious plan to sell people's privacy for money.

    Now that is hilarious. Google's entire business model is based on being the biggest data gatherer in the world, and extracting relevant personal information from that data in order to target advertising that generates them profit.

    I have worked at Google for about a year, and you have no idea how they work.

    Ah, I see. You were one of them. Now we know why you were so defensive.

    I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this, but Google is a big company, your average Slashdot reader is some level of geek, and as a consequence it's a good bet that many of us know one or more people who work or worked at Google. Whatever you saw in your few moths in one part of the company is not the only view anyone here has into the company as a whole and how it operates. In fact, it is entirely possible that there are people following this discussion who know way more about Google than you do.

    They have more money than they know what to do with. Streetview, like many projects, was started with no financial incentive in mind at all - just a product that they thought would be interesting and useful. If they find out how to monetize later, great. If not, it's just one more cool thing Google does. That is the idea behind virtually every project Google does outside of Search & Ads.

    Perhaps you don't realise this for some reason, but Google is there to make money for their shareholders. Since they became a listed company, that is their primary responsibility. It doesn't have to be direct and immediate — after all, half of "R&D" is the R bit — but if you think they will run projects like this and not attempt to monetize them at some point, you're kidding yourself. In fact, it might well be illegal for their directors not to do so if they found a legal way of doing it.

    I didn't realize that Google (and other)'s ability to make most of the Internet free to users by providing inconspicuous text ads was a horrible privacy invasion.

    Apparently you also didn't realise that most of the Internet was free to users without targetted advertising before Google came along. Whether the greater volume of material now available in a Google Ads-supported world is an improvement over

  • by Ogre840 (1233316) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @12:02PM (#22980726)
    I used to live at the end of a dead end road, and my roommate (whom was purchasing the home) actually owned 1/2 of the road from a telephone pole back to the fence/property line.

    We had lots of signs up stating "PRIVATE PROPERTY" "NO TRESPASSING" "Violators will be shot, survivors will be shot again." On a few occasions right after we moved in, we had police patrols in our neighborhood (due to "gang" activity, but that's another story) and they would turn around in our driveway.

    The cops were cool, and eventually let us know those signs didn't mean much, unless we actually owned the road, luckily we had the paperwork showing property lines. After that the cops wouldn't (couldn't?) use the very end of the road to turn around in, unless we had personally talked to that officer and gave him our permission. Heck, we let them use our property to conduct a few stake outs too.

    So if these people live on a "Private" road, they better be ready to prove they own that land. If not, I say Google had every right to take some pictures.
  • Photographer rights (Score:3, Interesting)

    by faffod (905810) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @04:05PM (#22982402)
    For the most part you are also allowed to take photos of government and (some military) locations. from http://www.krages.com/ThePhotographersRight.pdf [krages.com] [read the whole paper for the details that I've ommited]
    The General Rule
    The general rule in the United States is that anyone may take photographs of whatever they want when they are in a public place or places where they have permission to take photographs. Absent a specific legal prohibition such as a statute or ordinance, you are legally entitled to take photographs.
    Examples of places that are traditionally considered public are streets, sidewalks, and public parks. Property owners may legally prohibit photography on their premises but have no right to prohibit others from photographing their property from other locations. Whether you need permission from property owners to take photographs while on their premises depends on the circumstances. In most places, you may reasonably assume that taking photographs is allowed and that you do not need explicit permission. However, this is a judgment call and you should request permission when the circumstances suggest that the owner is likely to object. In any case, when a property owner tells you not to take photographs while on the premises, you are legally obligated to honor the request.
    Some Exceptions to the Rule
    There are some exceptions to the general rule. A significant one is that commanders of military installations can prohibit photographs of specific areas when they deem it necessary to protect national security. The U.S. Department of Energy can also prohibit photography of designated nuclear facilities although the publicly visible areas of nuclear facilities are usually not designated as such. Members of the public have a very limited scope of privacy rights when they are in public places. Basically, anyone can be photographed without their consent except when they have secluded themselves in places where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy such as dressing rooms, restrooms, medical facilities, and inside their homes.
    Permissible Subjects
    Despite misconceptions to the contrary, the following subjects can almost always be photographed lawfully from public places:
    accident and fire scenes
    children
    celebrities
    bridges and other infrastructure
    residential and commercial buildings
    industrial facilities and public utilities
    transportation facilities (e.g., airports)
    Superfund sites
    criminal activities
    law enforcement officers
  • Re:Private Roads (Score:3, Interesting)

    by budgenator (254554) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @04:05PM (#22982404) Journal
    That's probably a bad assumption, Pennsylvania is an English common law state, but Texas is a Spanish common law State there can be very dramatic differences
  • Should be opt in (Score:2, Interesting)

    by grimmy (75458) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @07:12PM (#22983720) Homepage
    I think street view is neat but really should be opt in.

    I've seen pictures of forum member's houses where you can see things a would be thief would love to get their hands on just because they had their garage door open at the time google drove bye.

    A lot of good opt out does when your atv, rims or classic corvette are already stolen.
  • Re:Diminished Value? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dgatwood (11270) on Monday April 07, 2008 @01:17AM (#22985910) Journal

    That's simply not true. Most private roads are paid for with private funds, including the upkeep and maintenance thereof. If the homeowners who pay for that upkeep want to keep people off of them, they have every right to do so. Of course, without a gate, one can reasonably ignore private road signs, so long as your purpose for visiting is within reason (driving to see someone who lives there, etc.). It is, however, still private property, and you do not have any automatic right to take photos on private property, nor certainly to exploit someone else's private property for your own gain. For example, you cannot tie onto a private road without permission of the road's owner.

    Further, every gated community I've ever had any experience with has had a homeowner's association that pays for the upkeep of commons areas, including the road. The city/county only pays for upkeep of roads that have been explicitly deeded to it, and a private road generally has not been. Further, many private roads that I've seen do not meet the minimum requirements for county maintenance. This is particularly the case for roads up in the mountains of California, where a one-lane road with no shoulder, no retaining wall, and little bits along the edge sliding down a sheer cliff every time it rains do not qualify for being deedable to the county.... :-)

    From a legal perspective, I don't expect this suit to go anywhere. If there is a reasonable vantage point from a private road, they have no case, and even if there isn't, a private road with no gate will probably be considered a semipublic place. The implicit offer is made to allow the public to enter to make contact with the owners. As a result, as such, you have no more expectation of privacy when viewable from such a road than you would in a hotel lobby. Both are privately owned with a general invitation to pass. The owner of the hotel can ask you to stop, maybe even to ask you to not publish the photos (and if you don't comply with such a request, you're probably screwed), but if you don't hear from the owner, the owner probably doesn't have the right to sue you later for an invasion of privacy when he/she discovers that photograph in the newspaper a week later.

    Bottom line is that legally unless you have a gate, a road is probably semipublic regardless of who owns it, so Google probably had the right to be there, tacky as it may be for them to ignore "No Trespassing" signs on the road. Laws on this may vary from place to place, of course, so you should not consider this legal advice. :-)

  • by balloonhead (589759) <doncuan@NosPAM.yahoo.com> on Monday April 07, 2008 @06:12AM (#22986940)
    It's not an all-encompassing list, more just a list of things which a photographer might be told not to photograph without there being any legal basis for the request not to. i.e. Photographers probably get told regularly not to photograph cops, kids and celebs by the cops, the parents, or the minders, but this is just so that they know their legal rights are likely to be to take the shot. Adults aren't there because the question is rarely raised.
  • Re:Diminished Value? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dgatwood (11270) on Monday April 07, 2008 @05:12PM (#22994144) Journal

    I live in a private community, with a gated, private access road. We pay HOA fees for upkeep of the gutters, street lights, etc, but the road itself is still actually owned by the city, and there's a line item in my county taxes for road maintenance. (this in is contract to my father who lives in a neighborhood that OWNS the road, and he does not pay this tax, living in the same town).

    In some places, you aren't allowed to put a gate on a road that is maintained by the city. That was certainly true where I grew up. Of course, that's probably a local policy specific to that city.

    Google would not be able to drive on a road that is a true private road, but they actually know which ones those are. If you go to google maps, private roads are not drawn, there will just be a blob where a comminty is.

    Uh, no, that is absolutely not true. I was considering buying a piece of land in the Santa Cruz, CA area about a year ago. I read the paperwork on the land, and road maintenance costs were shared among the landowners. However, the road in question is most definitely on Google maps [google.com].

    Just because it is a road, that doesn't make it public. It could be semipublic, and with a gate, it might even be considered private, albeit not with respect to aerial photos. That said, I do agree that the people suing probably don't have a case, just not for the reasons you state.

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