I Spy With My Little Eye: Arrogance

arrogant_google.pngA Pittsburgh couple is suing Google on the grounds that their privacy was invaded by the dilettante search company during the capturing of street images to be incorporated in Google’s Street View software.The filed complaint can be seen here at The Smoking Gun.

At issue is whether or not the “Google gander van” was in violation of the reasonable expectation of privacy when it ventured down a supposedly marked private road.

According to IT News, Google’s response to the lawsuit is predictable and off the mark:

“Today’s satellite image technology means that even in today’s desert, complete privacy does not exist,” says Google’s submission.

“In any event, the Plaintiffs live far away from the desert and are far from hermits.”

Not only does Google attempt to dismiss privacy concerns by conflating its Street View technology with satellite imagery, but it misses the point of the suit’s premise of reasonable expectation of privacy through the act of trespassing.

Quick hits:

If the road was properly posted as private, then:

1.    There did exist a reasonable expectation of privacy. Google did trespass, and invaded said privacy. The driver made an error.
2.    According to Google, the images have since been deleted.
3.    It is unclear, however, what damages exist.

If the road was not properly marked, then:

1.    A reasonable expectation probably doesn’t exist.
2.    It still remains to be seen what damages would exist.

This suit may wind up being minor, but it has larger implications, especially to a company that has stated it wants to index all information in the universe. The European Union is concerned that Google’s Street View software violates its privacy laws.

In essence, Google is the 600-pound gorilla in the privacy arena, and makes the perfect target to go after in order to establish beneficial public policy on technology and privacy.

Here’s yet another angle to consider: If you are walking down your own street, and you see your neighbors’ houses, are you invading anyone’s privacy? Most would say not. If you walk onto their property, and peek through their windows? Certainly, and trespassing to do it.

But let’s say you’re making a film. You shoot all the houses in your neighborhood as you drive down your street. You incorporate that footage into a film that is sold to some Hollywood outfit. Would it have been prudent to get signed releases from those home owners? Yes. Required? Perhaps not. Would a release avoid a potentially successful civil claim of privacy? Yes.

As a practical point, Google fails. As a public policy point, Google is becoming annoying, if not potentially dangerous. As a public relations point, Google is simply arrogant.

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