Google Street View, a Google Maps feature that lets users see images of streets and the surrounding areas, continues to generate controversy. Since its launch in May 2007, the feature has prompted questions about whether it constitutes an invasion of privacy, complaints about inappropriate images, and even a lawsuit.
Aaron and Christine Boring vs. Google
The lawsuit came from a Pittsburgh couple in April 2008. The couple lives on a private road. However, Google's Street View team travelled down the road and continued taking images all the way up to the couple's home. The images were then posted to Google Maps and included close-ups of the couple's home, swimming pool, and outbuildings.
Google's response? "Complete privacy does not exist in this world except in a desert, and anyone who is not a hermit must expect and endure the ordinary incidents of the community life of which he (or she) is a part (1)."
While Google's assertion that its Street View imaging team is an "ordinary incident of community life" is far-fetched, Google does make some good points in its response. Namely, that the plaintiffs could have simply requested that Google remove the offending images from Street View via a form available on Google Maps. Instead, the couple filed suit and in doing so have made the matter public record and ensured that the images will be viewed by even more people.
Since the lawsuit, Google has removed the images in question, but the suit remains open.
The Borings' Neighbors
On Goldenbrook Lane, a nearby street, some of the Borings' neighbors also had an incident with the Street View team. In this incident, the Street View team drove up Goldenbrook Lane and into the driveway of the McKee residence. They continued to drive, snapping Street View images the whole way, up to the garages of the McKees (2). While it appears that the McKees didn't resort to a lawsuit, Google has removed the images of the home that were taken from private property from Street View.
Street View in California
In California, the antics of the Street View drivers continued. Drivers reportedly went on over 100 private roads in Sonoma County according to an analysis done by PressDemocrat.com. In another instance, Street View drivers went past two no trespassing signs as they photographed the 1,200 foot private road leading up to Betty Webb's house in Humboldt County. In another incident reported by PressDemocrat.com, Street View drivers ignored a no trespassing sign, passed through a gate, and drove through someone's yard on a dirt road near Freestone.
Street View and U.S. Military Bases
In March 2008, the Pentagon requested that Google remove some images of military bases taken from public streets due to the potential threat those images posed to national security. "It actually shows where all the guards are. It shows how the barriers go up and down. It shows how to get in and out of buildings," said General Gene Renuart, commander of U.S. Northern Command (3). According to Google spokesman Larry Yu, Google has honored the Pentagon's requests (4). However, the Pentagon was still reviewing the many images of military facilities that were included in Street View (5).
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