Friday, August 1, 2008

Google: Complete Privacy no Longer Exists

It’s been discussed before: in this information-filled age with all our personal data in databases that are vulnerable to leaks, as well as much of our behavioral data being gathered by corporations, is there really any privacy? On Wednesday, in response to a lawsuit, Google said no.
In April, Pittsburgh couple Aaron and Christine Boring (yes, that’s really their name) filed suit against Google in Allegheny County court. Why? They felt that Google’s “reckless conduct” in publishing Street View photos (above) of their property (which was “protected” by a private road sign) caused “mental suffering” and hurt the value of their home.

There’s a fairly easy way to get pictures removed from Street View (more on that later), and Google brought that up, implying that someone decided it was a good way to get some cash out of a large corporation. On the other hand, if that was the case, they strangely only asked for $25,000.

As Google said in their motion to dismiss the complaint:
“When plaintiffs discovered these images, rather than using the simple removal option Google affords, they sued Google for invasion of privacy, trespass, negligence, and conversion. Plaintiffs seek damages form ‘mental suffering’ and diminished property value supposedly caused by the public accessibility of the photos. They claim these injuries even though similar photos of their home were already publicly available on the Internet, and even though they drew exponentially greater attention to the images in question by filing and publicizing the lawsuit while choosing not to remove the images of their property from the Street View service.”

The photos already available on the Internet that Google mentions above are on a county website.

While that’s true, here’s the scary, big-brotherish (though unnervingly true) part:
“Today’s satellite-image technology means that even in today’s desert, complete privacy does not exist. In any event, plaintiffs live far from the desert and are far from hermits.
As far as Google’s contention that the Borings could remove the offending image: it’s true. All they (or anyone) has to do was bring up Street View Help, click a link, and select “This image infringes on my privacy.”

But their lawyer, Dennis Moskal, had this response:
“If you take Google’s response to the furthest conclusion, you could never have any reasonable expectation of privacy unless you fortified your house and barricaded yourself in.”
“Is something ever really removed from the Internet once it’s sent out to a billion people? It’s a face-off between big business saying that they can set forth what the law is - that they’re above the law.”

He has a point about things never disappearing from the Web. After all, things like old MySpace photos have brought down politicians … and more. And where did I get the picture of their property above? Right.

By Michael Santo Editor-in-Chief, RealTechNews

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