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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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  • I warned them (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Metasquares ( 555685 )
    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.
  • 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.

    • 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.
    • by fyoder ( 857358 )

      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.
      As much as they can? 25 grand? From Google? That's petty cash to them. I wonder how they arrived at such a strangely low figure. Perhaps they figured if they kept it low Google would simply cut them a cheque and tell them to piss off and stop bothering them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by value_added ( 719364 )
      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
  • by KDR_11k ( 778916 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:43AM (#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.
    • 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: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Megane ( 129182 )

        Third, I would love so hear how taking pictures of a property devalues it.

        I'd like to hear it too. Because apparently Google took pictures of MY house late last year, taking a picture of my old garage door with its missing window pane, and a big pile of leaves on the driveway. If they don't read my mind and update the picture the moment I think there's a problem with it, maybe I should sue?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by iamhigh ( 1252742 ) *
      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,
    • 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.
      • It's more like: "There is no damage".

        Yes. It was a mistake IMHO for google to use the weak argument that people can opt out. The stronger argument is: "the outside of your house is outside and it's none of your business if we photograph it." Letting people opt out is good PR but I doubt they're legally required to do so. As an amateur photographer the idea of having to get permission from every person who owns something that falls into one of my pictures is terrifying - and utterly pointless!

        If a ph

    • Wait a sec... Was the picture taken from public property? I fail to see how anyone, as a citizen or representative of a public company, could get sued for taking pictures as long as you're not trespassing or violating any laws. If you drive down a (public) street and take a picture of a house and post it on your blog you can get sued? WTF?

      Maybe the morons from the lawsuit should sue their mail man and paper boy. They've SEEN the house! Obviously anybody that gazes on their house is violating their p
  • Don't go there. (Score:5, Informative)

    by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:45AM (#22979400)
    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. A private road means that the owners of the road take no government funding or care for it, and therefore get to decide who they'll allow on it. Google wasn't wanted, so there's the problem.
    • Re:Don't go there. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Smallpond ( 221300 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:52AM (#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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        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.
        • It's the landowner's responsibility to post and maintain signs. One sign would not cut it on open land, you have to post the whole perimeter. However the law distinguishes settled land from open land, so maybe the rules are different. Of course, your rights to the land are limited. Nobody in Pittsburgh owns the mineral rights under their own homes, for example. Those were all sold out from under them 200 years ago.
      • by caseih ( 160668 )
        Under some state's laws, a private road just means that you happen to maintain the road. Whether or not people can access that road is another issue entirely. In Utah, for example, if the road allows public access continually over a period of years, then you permanently lose the ability to control who accesses this road. IE you can still tow people who park on the road, but you can never ban anyone from driving on the road. One large private university completely blocks off campus every couple of years
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Sax Maniac ( 88550 )
        Our street is plainly labeled "Private Road, No Trespassing" because it's still under construction and not public yet. Not that I care about having the picture, but Google doesn't care either, they put it on street view anyway. So, it's not a stretch to say they willfully ignore such signs.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Emmef ( 803757 )

      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 ajs ( 35943 )
      What makes this case different:

      * Claim of suffering due to image of house on Web
      * Claim of property value loss due to image of house on Web
      * Use of courts to resolve issue that one fax could have taken care of

      Beyond that, this seems to be same-old, same-old.


      • by ajs ( 35943 )
        Side question: what is slashdot's posting system doing? They just sent this to my Web server when I posted the above comment: - - [06/Apr/2008:10:07:27 -0400] "GET http://yro.slashdot.org/ok.txt HTTP/1.0" 404 285 "-" "libwww-perl/5.803"
        What are they trying to do?
        • by schon ( 31600 )
          That looks like a proxy request. I'd guess that they're checking to see if you're posting through an open proxy.
    • by Dan541 ( 1032000 )
      If it was a private road the google van would not have been able to drive onto it.

      You cant just connect your own road to the public network and expect people to stay off it while its wide open.

      Am I going to be sued by turning around in someones drive way?
      • by Dredd13 ( 14750 )

        You cant just connect your own road to the public network and expect people to stay off it while its wide open.

        Actually, you can. There are plenty of jurisdictions where "Private Road" means "No trespassing".
  • 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?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by BountyX ( 1227176 )
      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. Go
      • by jchawk ( 127686 )
        Let me get this straight?

        I put a server on the internet.

        I don't password protect it.

        I don't even bother to put a robots.txt file, which google would respect.

        I get indexed and it's googles fault?

        I think it's the clueless person who put a server up on the internet and made it publicly available.
  • Who's fault is it? (Score:4, Informative)

    by celerityfm ( 181760 ) * on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:54AM (#22979448) Journal
    I dunno it seems like a case of bad judgment on the driver of the mapping vehicle. If you look at the pictures it seems like they drove right up to their garage, taking pictures the whole time.

    It also seems like provider of the maps is also at fault, if you follow along on Google maps you can see that the street appears to extend all the way to their garage [google.com].

    But, there doesn't seem to be any "private road" labeling on the map nor was their any sign visible when I followed the street via Streetview to their house (though they did delete the offending pictures, so maybe the sign was there?)

    Regardless though, I would expect that the drivers of these vehicles would know better then to keep the pictures they took of a property while parked in front of a garage.
    • by Megane ( 129182 )
      Here in Texas, we have a much better solution for rural places like that: GATES. If there's a gate, or even just a cattle guard, it probably isn't a public road.
    • Well, there are eight mailboxes at the end of Oakridge Lane, that doesn't seem that private and there's no gate or private drive sign to ward off drivers. Also it looks like the street view extends to their driveway simply because they built their house at the end of the road.
    • by AaxelB ( 1034884 )

      if you follow along on Google maps you can see that the street appears to extend all the way to their garage.

      I noticed the exact same thing, except it looks like the area in front of their garage is the obligatory turnaround at the end of a one-lane road, so the road does, in fact, extend all the way to their garage. From what I can see, unless there's a sign, I would end up driving all the way up, just so I could turn around comfortably. Maybe the driver should have turned off the camera, but I think they had every right to be there. I'm not sure how much control the driver has over the camera, or if it just run

  • I think the judge should have a big red button on the bench, connected to a solenoid and trap-door located under the plaintiff and his lawyer. As volcanoes are in short supply, a pool full of hungry crocodiles would do.
    • by eebra82 ( 907996 )

      As volcanoes are in short supply, a pool full of hungry crocodiles would do.
      You just lost Tom Cruise over that one.
  • by Random BedHead Ed ( 602081 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:55AM (#22979464) Homepage Journal

    IANAL, however it seems like this should come down a question of visibility. Is the house visible from the street? Then it seems that publishing a photo that includes the house shouldn't be a problem. It would be different if it were a close-up photo of the house, or one looking inside it, but if it's just the same view available to a passer-by, what's the harm? My only question is whether the 'Private Road' sign could cause problems. What's a 'private road?' Do the residents pave it and light it, or is it really a public road maintained by the municipality with a sign that discourages visitors?

    This reminds me a bit of companies that place security guards to stop people from photographing their buildings. My reaction has always been that you shouldn't put a building in a public place if you don't want it to be photographed.

    • by jchawk ( 127686 )
      I'm not saying I agree with this lawsuit however I think their point is that the van entered their property and took photos which they published online.

      The view that the Allegheny County website can be see here -

      http://tinyurl.com/4fxjxq [tinyurl.com]

      Seems to be taken from the road.

      These images, specifically the ones on the bottom appear to be taken on their property -

      http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2008/0404081google7.html [thesmokinggun.com]

      My first impression of this is the van turned around in their lot and some of those pict
  • Mental Anguish? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dlc3007 ( 570880 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:12AM (#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.

  • ...If the photographer/videographer is in a public place when they make the picture, they can tell people like this to kiss their rosy bum. The courts in many countries have spoken unequivocally on this. The case might be different if the entire road is on private property, but that doesn't sound like that's what's happening.

  • They don't have a case. Anyone can take pictures from a public location; if you don't want to be photographed, you have to put up a fence.

    Contrary to what they claim, the road in question wasn't even clearly marked a "Private Road" (you can see that in street view itself; there's no sign anywhere).

    However, Google has apparently voluntarily removed the images anyway, which makes their case collapse.
  • by MrNonchalant ( 767683 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:46AM (#22979734)
    Allegheny County has a real estate assessment website which has pictures of every house in the county. Including the Borings:
    http://www2.county.allegheny.pa.us/RealEstate/Image.asp?CurrBloLot=0823E00136000000&Street=Oakridge [allegheny.pa.us]
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by BACPro ( 206388 )
      As I was reading the summary and comments (article too!), I had envisioned a sprawling mansion with swimming pools and gates that keep out the paparazzi and keep in the polo horses.

      The photo presented looks like an opening shot from "Flip This House"

      I think I can hear banjos in the background...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by anlprb ( 130123 )
      You completely misunderstand the difference between government and private corporations.
  • by WCMI92 ( 592436 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:49AM (#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...
  • It's better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

    End of story.
  • 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 Ogre840 ( 1233316 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @01:02PM (#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.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun