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Google Sued Over Privacy Invasion On Street View 481

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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  • lol.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:43AM (#22979392)

    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. A chance these companies also have dozens of lawyers for whenever that happens.

  • by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:46AM (#22979402)

    asking someone for permission should happen BEFORE acting

    Yeah, that is just so feasible when what you're doing is taking pictures of EVERY SINGLE BUILDING AND HOUSE IN A LARGE CITY. Well maybe not every single one, but you get my point..

  • Opt out? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dnoyeb ( 547705 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:48AM (#22979430) Homepage Journal
    I don't like opt-out memberships. The ability for companies to get away with opt-out usually comes from legislation. Not simple company choice.
  • Thank you google! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Vampyre_Dark ( 630787 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:54AM (#22979446)
    Google never ceases to teach me new things. I guess it's okay to do impolite things as long as I remind the victim that they could have asked me to stop at any time.

    How long until google is indexing my underwear drawer?
  • by jrumney ( 197329 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:55AM (#22979462)
    Presumably they see some of the value in their house being in the fact that it is on a "private" road. Google's images demonstrate how little that is really worth, thus lowering the value of their property.
  • by Smidge204 ( 605297 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:56AM (#22979468) Journal
    First, it appears that no attempt to request the images be removed was made.

    Second, doing shit like this only makes it worse [wikipedia.org]. If there really was any concern over privacy then this is by far the worst thing you could do to protect it.

    Third, I would love so hear how taking pictures of a property devalues it. At best you can charge them with trespassing since it was private property - a criminal charge which would probably be more effective at changing Google's policies than a civil suit - but you can't get any cash out of a criminal charge.

    In other words, this has all the seemings of someone who decided to look up their own house on Street View and thought "free money!"
  • Re:I warned them (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:00AM (#22979490)

    Why should they have listened to you?

    Perhaps because he was right, and the alternative was continuing to live in denial of the idea that anything Google does could possibly be wrong? Just read Google's view of the subject:

    Google, on the other hand, claims that this lawsuit is pointless since anyone can ask them to have pictures removed without legal action.

    Sure, but I bet they wouldn't have volunteered any compensation or accepted any penalty in recognition of the fact that they did do something wrong.

    Google have become far too big for their boots in recent years. They need to be taught the meaning of respecting people's privacy, and now they're a shareholder-driven company, the most effective way to do that is to penalise them financially. If everyone who finds Google's Street View is unreasonably invading their privacy gets awarded a substantial sum of money then Google will learn that this behaviour is not acceptable and stop doing it. (Failing that, we should start locking up their directors, but obviously it's not likely to come to that.)

    Personally, I believe any photograph taken without permission that looks into someone's home is an invasion of privacy. This is not at all the same situation as a neighbour casually passing by in the street, where no-one is both recording what they see and republishing it for the rest of the world in searchable form. Right now, a lot of our laws on things like privacy and data protection are well behind the curve in terms of technology. I can only hope that publicising a few more cases like Simon Bunce [bbc.co.uk], where someone's entire life is wrecked because one leak of personal data snowballed into identity theft and all that implies, will wake up governments to the fact that big business's need to spam us all with advertising and keep our credit card numbers on file for... well, because they couldn't be bothered not to... is not more important then your right and mine to live a private life free from unwarranted scrutiny by all and sundry.

    Personally, I hope the complainant gets the $25k in this case, not because I necessarily believe they suffered as much as their claims suggest, but because I think it would be healthy to have such a damaging precedent on file as a deterrent to Google and anyone else who thinks that just because they can collect and process vast amounts of data that means they have no ethical or legal obligations on how they do so.

  • Diminshed Value? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by pinguwin ( 807635 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:01AM (#22979494)
    First off, I don't understand how their home value is diminished. Second, even if it is, so what? If Google is engaging in legal acts (making that assumption), why is it Google's concerns for their home value? I've always questioned this "property value" argument when others are engaging in legal behavior. If painting my purple polka dots on my house that are allowed by local statute, diminishes your home by $25, it's not my problem, it's yours. Same goes for this house in question. Oh yeah, don't forget the Streisand Effect.
  • by tkrotchko ( 124118 ) * on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:12AM (#22979546) Homepage
    It's more like

    "There is no damage".

    Boom. End of sentence. I would say there is no expectation of privacy from outer space or from the street. It's not reasonable.

    As for "Mental Anguish", I suffer a lot of mental anguish every day that I'm in traffic. Who do I sue? And only $25K for mental anguish. Either they didn't have a lot of anguish or they don't have a lot of mental.

    As for the diminished value of their house, it sounds like they're looking for Google to reimburse them for the downturn in the market that has cut housing values from 1/4 to 3/4's (depending on where you live).

    Overall, this is the kind of lawsuit that makes you think the world is overpopulated. On so many levels.
  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:13AM (#22979552)
    They are doing "pictures" of almost every web site out there right now. Did they ask all the web site owners? No? Then maybe they shouldn't do that!
  • by Metasquares ( 555685 ) <slashdot@nOsPaM.metasquared.com> on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:18AM (#22979586) Homepage
    There's a difference: the primary purpose of a website is to attract viewers. I don't walk outside so people can take photos of me.
  • by goldspider ( 445116 ) <ardrake79NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:19AM (#22979594) Homepage
    My generation has really taken to heart the old adage "It's easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission". Just another symptom of our society's growing sense of entitlement and disrespect of others' personal property and privacy.
  • by Dan541 ( 1032000 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:23AM (#22979618) Homepage
    Should they not seek to prosecute Google for trespassing then?

  • Re:I warned them (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:32AM (#22979676)
    Privacy in respect to photos is all over the place, If I'd taken a photo of me and my girlfriend with my cellphone in which their house was in the background, should I have to pay 25.000$ to them due to damageing their mental health? Calling google evil simple because they are big is just stupid. They aren't doing anything evil here, It's not like they sat at a desk an planned to take pictures of everyones houses thus deevaluating the market and eventually taking over the world. This is just a case of some gready people looking for easy money.
  • Re:I warned them (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SerpentMage ( 13390 ) <ChristianHGross&yahoo,ca> on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:47AM (#22979740)
    One of the things that Google needs to change is the behavior, "we do first, and you can remove later."

    It sort of reminds me of the idea, "hey I will walk along the neighborhood and attempt to open all doors and see which ones are unlocked. Of course if you tell me after the fact then I will not do it again later on."

    So why does Google do this? Simple, its their entire business model. Think about. Imagine if Google had to get the OK from everybody before submitting pictures, web search, and book contents. That would absolutely kill their revenue.
  • Re:I warned them (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:50AM (#22979762)

    I'm sorry, but you are spectacularly missing my point.

    I do have an expectation of privacy in my own home. This expectation is born of common courtesy and acceptable polite behaviour. Moreover, I claim that I am far from the only person with such a view: if you walked along a street obviously going up to people's windows and taking detailed photographs of the inside of their home, do you not think a substantial number of them would also have a problem with this behaviour? The fact that Google is doing this far more disceetly does not change the nature of what they are doing, nor the feelings many people would have about it if they knew it was going on.

    You are in essence making a legal argument: the law does not currently prohibit such abusive behaviour. I am making an ethical one: if that is so, then the law is broken.

  • by Troed ( 102527 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:56AM (#22979798) Homepage Journal
    ... but you do treat the outside of your house with the expectation that others (random people) will look at it and admire it/you.

  • Re:I warned them (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:56AM (#22979800)

    And there is no equivalent to remove your house from their satellite stuff if you so desire.

    Not unless you are, say, the US Government, that is. Apparently their right to privacy extends to not having photographs of their facilities publicly available.

    There should be a constitutional rule that says no government or corporate body may ever have a right not universally available to an individual citizen. If something is important enough for the guys with power and money to protect, it's important enough to protect it for everyone else, too.

  • Re:I warned them (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GIL_Dude ( 850471 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:58AM (#22979814) Homepage
    Right, but they ask you that as a way to find out if you have any ideas that may make you useful to them as a new hire - to see if you think beyond the box or beyond "make search better". As someone who has to do some amount of interviewing for a company of 60,000 people - I can tell you that is the type of question I may ask folks. But if I thought you had a good idea on something, I could take it to my manager, who could take it to their manager, who could send it to the "guy in charge of that". Any step along the way the idea could get quashed, ignored by someone "too busy" or morphed into something else resembling someone's pet project that now has "vetting from an outside party".

    I don't think it is a reasonable assumption that you told the legal and technical teams that actually work on Google Streets anything . You certainly tried to tell them something - but that message getting to anyone who could act on it is probably vanishingly small.
  • by STrinity ( 723872 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @11:03AM (#22979854) Homepage
    After seeing the map, I think the owners have a point -- the private road is essentially their driveway, and they have a line of trees screening their house from outside view. These people want privacy, and Google violated it. I don't know if it's worth $25,000, but on top of the incident where the Google Street View van drove onto a military base in contravention of Google's rules, I think this is a sign that the people taking the pictures are inadequately trained and lack common sense.
  • by Geodesy99 ( 1002847 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @11:28AM (#22980042)
    I did a project more than a decade ago with EMTs and other first responders about vehicle INS systems ( before GPS became ubiquitous ). The drivers jokingly ( or maybe not ) noted that the eventual real effect of people that had overgrown vegitation, concealed drives, locked gates, non-existent or faded curb numbers, missing or angled house numbers and unlit or burned out porch lights was that response time effectively doubles or triples with a corresponding effect on medical survival rates. As society becomes more dependent of spatial technologies like StreetView, a similar counter-survival friction will occur as Fedex, Dominos, and EMTs are delayed by uncertain spots in their data. So that EMT's opinion was that eventually these 'hiding' people would be selected against and be left in the shallow end of the gene pool.
  • Re:I warned them (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MttJocy ( 873799 ) * on Sunday April 06, 2008 @11:38AM (#22980136)
    Google is not walking up to windows, doing so would be as serious as using a zoom lens to access the subjects home to take photos.

    In this case Google is doing neither, using a standard lens to take a picture of buildings and streets is hardly a problem, sure using zoom lenses and stuff or walking up to windows to get detailed pictures of people inside their homes would be.

    By your definition taking photos of buildings in general would be a crime if there were any people inside said buildings, there is the whole thing of wanting to take photos of the architecture, not to mention the obvious problem of telling people they can't take pictures of their friends ANYWHERE in an urban area as they would also capture shots of buildings, and thus probably people inside those buildings or are people wanting to take photographs supposed to peer into the buildings first to make sure no people are visible?
  • by Macthorpe ( 960048 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @11:39AM (#22980146) Journal
    So we should stop caring because the photos they're taking of the inside and outside of people's houses and using for profit are low quality?

    Thank goodness for that, I thought it might be a problem.
  • by nahdude812 ( 88157 ) * on Sunday April 06, 2008 @11:47AM (#22980216) Homepage
    Photography in the US is permitted in public places, and does not require permission in advance. From The Photographer's Bill of Rights [krages.com]:

    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.
    Google is going above and beyond by offering to remove any objected photos, at their expense, and without the need to raise legal action.

    Roads are considered public places. I don't know whether roads marked as private are considered public or not (it takes more than the posting of a sign to make something so), this probably depends on the municipality, and whether or not the road itself is actually private property (and as such they'd have to pay themselves for plowing and other maintenance). In that case, Google's mistake might have simply for their driver to have failed to notice the sign labeling it as private. In such a case, I think you'd have to prove Google knowingly and willingly chose to act in the face of knowledge that what they did was incorrect. Because this is such an unusual circumstance (very very few roads are private which don't have some sort of gate on the end) that the burden should be on the owners to protect themselves from unwitting violation of their atypical case.

    Regardless, these people are exposing themselves to a serious Streisand Effect [wikipedia.org] by trying to make such a public issue of the complaint. If instead they had emailed Google and requested the removal, Google would have quietly complied, and no one would have even noticed. Guaranteed, if they see other people looking at their home as a way to devalue it (which I cannot see), then any publicity they generate for themselves will be far more damaging than the mere existence of an image mixed in among millions of others.
  • Public Records (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @12:04PM (#22980346) Homepage Journal
    I guess these people don't know i can goto their local clerk and get their name and assessed value too. Or a host of other public or easily purchased record sources are available.

    Views from the *street* are public. Don't like it, move further back from the road and put up trees. ( and put a cover over your property or move underground since satellite images are public too, since i could see that same view from the street, with a REALLY large ladder. )
  • by kyct ( 1231982 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @12:06PM (#22980364) Homepage
    I don't know about the legal status of a "private road" but if I'm on public property, I can take a picture of your house as long as it can be seen from public property. It's not against the law. The only things that are exempt from this are government and military locations.
  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @12:07PM (#22980374) Journal
    (1) $25k isn't exactly punitive to Google - it probably wouldn't even cover litigation costs if this went to court. Eric Schmidt probably loses that much change in his sofa each year.

    (2) Others have posted that there are no signs visible indicating that this named road is private, or that trespassing is prohibited. It is entirely likely (though I don't know for certain) that there is, in fact, a public right of way centered on the road. That is often the case in Virginia even when the road is listed as private.

    (3) They must be going fucking bonkers over their county's GIS website, which lists data on the property and sales price information.

    I'm more libertarian than the average Joe, but I have a very hard time getting worked up over this. Get back to me if they start tracking people movements without consent...I'll back you up at that point.
  • by Macthorpe ( 960048 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @12:28PM (#22980518) Journal
    I'm not arguing the law, because I'm not a lawyer. I'm saying it's morally wrong for a company to take photos of someone else's clearly marked private property and then use them to improve revenue to their website by publishing them for everyone in the world to see.

    I'm all for not having an expectation of privacy in public areas, but that area clearly isn't public.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 06, 2008 @01:05PM (#22980756)

    Did they ask all the web site owners? No?
    Yes [robotstxt.org].
  • Re:I warned them (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Aetuneo ( 1130295 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @01:07PM (#22980766) Homepage
    So, the government is able to levy taxes. Should every citizen be able to do that as well? It's also able to declare war upon another country, declare a state of emergency, and so on and so forth. Imagine what would happen if all of the idiots in the country were able to do that.
  • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @01:07PM (#22980768)
    I'm also not a lawyer, but from what I can tell, private roads are private because they were built and are maintained by private citizens rather than the government. Mainly because they go places that few people in the area would like to go.

    They'll lose the case because there isn't a reasonable expectation of privacy to claim. Law enforcement and emergency vehicles are legally allowed on all of those roads as necessary, and so are other people. If they had a gate or barrier then they might have a case, but as it is now they're basically just invoking the Streisand effect.

    Living in a low traffic area isn't sufficient to give that expectation from the legal point of view. The open fields doctrine would be completely pointless otherwise.
  • by piojo ( 995934 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @01:10PM (#22980792)
    If you shouldn't sue, what should you do when someone bigger and stronger than you does something wrong to you? Law enforcement's not gonna help, they don't care about trivialities. Personally, I'm happy about this lawsuit, because it may serve as a reminder to Google not to go over the line when making private things public.
  • Re:I warned them (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bill, Shooter of Bul ( 629286 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @01:35PM (#22980964) Journal
    Were you interviewing for a position in their legal team? If not, I can completely understand why they didn't take legal advice from a non legal potential employee. Plus, its unlikely that the interviewer himself would be in any position to influence that kind of a decision.

    Plus, you basically gave a group think answer to a question aimed at exploring your creativity.
  • Re:I plan to sue (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Stray7Xi ( 698337 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @01:49PM (#22981034)
    I have no problems with anyone that wants to take a photo of my home. I have a problem when they want to put in a database that can be datamined and used to analyze me.

    Sure Google will remove the photos And when Microsoft, Yahoo, and Verifax start doing the same, you're supposed to click their link to remove even though they never inform you that you've been added to their database? Some of us value our privacy but don't consider it our onus to have to spend time searching for people trying to breach our privacy. Some would compare this to web indexing, but it's not at all alike because of the robot exclusion standard. If I don't want someone to index my website, I place a file that says such, and if they do they're likely breaking the law.

    But why should I care? Anyone can see my house right?? and that's fine, the problem comes when they stick it in a database. I actually expected better from slashdot in regard to this. We all know about datamining, all these different sources that can be used to gather information and make larger conclusions. The idiots that put pictures of themselves on Facebook doing drugs or underage drinking have only themselves to blame. But what about the people that get their photo snapped in some place they shouldn't be. If I had a moral agenda to push it wouldn't be hard to search out pictures of all "undesirable" places (strip clubs, gay bars, etc) to identify people and contact their employers. Plus this is just the start, do you think google will be the only company to ever want to do this? Do you think they'll stop after one picture, no they need to update their content.

    Suppose something really bad is placed on internet, like a woman leaving her blinds open while undressing. She'll only find out when someone sees it, by then it's likely out of googles hands and posted on forums all over the place. Should google be responsible?

    But the robots exclusion standard CAN'T work with real world information. Suppose we say we can opt-out of all databases. how do we do that? Place our facial information in a file so if we match a photo it's rejected, placing our facial information in everyones database in the process?! Or register our house and just acecpt that people can search for where we go?

    What I think google should do if they want to be respectful of people is send out notices to all residents when they take photos of their block. Give them 30 days to opt out before the photos are placed online. This won't happen not just because it'd raise costs, but because they'd find every block has at least one person opposed. Plus they should blur our any people, license plates and other identifiable information in photos
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 06, 2008 @01:59PM (#22981122)
    True, but not all utilities are owned by government. My electric company (Alabama Power), phone company (AT&T), cable company (Charter Communications), and gas company (Alagasco) are all non-government owned, profit-making, reliable utilities. In fact, I'm against utilities being owned by cities, counties, states, or the Feds. They work much better at lower cost to the consumer. So there, you damned Socialist!
  • by ubuwalker31 ( 1009137 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @02:38PM (#22981386)
    Who owns what in "road law" in most jurisdictions is fairly complicated. A so called "private road" could be anything from an abandoned public road to a road that was built by the landowner himself or another adjoining land owner who has given that landowner an easement.

    Even if the road itself is totally owned by the landowner, whether they have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" from photographs on that road is a question that is probably undecided or unclear. Even if the answer is yes, the issue of damages is probably laughable. A generic photo of a house on a road? I'd give them $100. If the photo had a picture of them "doing it" in the window, maybe $25,000 would be justifiable.

    If you want to read more, check out this link: The Pennsylvania Legislator&#226;&#8364;(TM)s Municipal Deskbook, Third Edition (2006), Road Law Basics Chapter: http://tinyurl.com/6hvvnk
  • by anlprb ( 130123 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @02:51PM (#22981478)
    Sorry, I am a surveyor. Private is just that, Google was trespassing. They have no rights to go on that road. This is tantamount to walking inside someone's house and taking pictures of their bedroom. If the road is private, they have every expectation of privacy. Sorry Google, better read those posted signs better next time. Open and shut case. Any good judge will find for the plaintiff on this one. If this were a public road, fine, all is fair, but it is private for a reason. I personally would have the association go after them. And for all those who don't know, yes, private does mean greater value. You can control who comes in and out of your development. That is why the signs are posted for residents and guest only. Private roads are not maintained by the local government, so no plowing, no garbage pickup, etc... With that also comes the expectation of privacy. Whoops, Google better get a good lawyer for this one. As long as the street had a sign on it, that is enough of a warning for those entering. There does NOT need to be a gate or a speed bump or anything else. Just a sign to designate as private. There really is no excuse for this. If they want to do mapping, they should have a F'ing surveyor on staff. Guess they don't. I wonder if the licensed surveyor's salary is less than what these people will get out of Google. There is tons of precedent on this. I am really surprised Google was the one to make this mistake. So much for "Don't be evil."
  • Re:I warned them (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Voltageaav ( 798022 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @06:08PM (#22982872) Homepage
    The real question is "Is the road actually all their property?". Apparently, this "Private Road" has a street sign and has several other houses on it which would be an indicator to me that it's public. Unless the peope sueing own all the land sirectly around the road and have it gated or clearly marked "No Trasspassing" where someone in a car could easily see it, I can't see how they have a case.

"If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong." -- Norm Schryer