A Google Streetview Privacy Lawsuit Dismissal: Was it Thrown Out Too Soon?

A Pittsburgh Couple Sued Google for Showing Their Home on Streetview, a Judge Rendered the Case Pointless

It was inevitable that a lawsuit would be filed against some of Google's sophisticated map services and the privacy issues involved. Google Earth has already raised enough flags with every philosopher in sight, including yours truly who's written a few articles on the net about the potential troubles Google's map programs could run into down the road. When Google Earth upped the ante last year by utilizing new satellite images with better clarity, the increasing desire to file lawsuits against everything that looks like a threat increased tenfold. It's a sheer miracle of conscience that the courts haven't already been mired in lawsuits against Google with litigants saying their privacy was invaded. Then came one couple from Pittsburgh who felt threatened by Google's more invasive program: Google Streetview...

When this couple (who will remain nameless here, despite getting publicity in my source link) found their home apparently prominently displayed on Google's more detailed Streetview program, there was an instant feeling of unfair invasiveness captured by a vehicle owned by Google that was equipped to capture images from all directions on America's major street corners. Since Google was only able to capture select streets and not every street (no, they aren't quite that steeply ambitious yet), the couple obviously felt more the victim of their privacy being invaded and possibly threatened.

The most prominent concern was more than the obvious fear of everybody knowing where they lived, but primarily that their property value would be lessened if a future buyer knew the house and other private outdoor areas around the house were visible on Streetview as long as Google exists.

Sounds like one of the easiest lawsuits on planet earth, doesn't it?

Lest the easiest lawsuit in the world progressed to beget other easy lawsuits, the judge handling the case threw the case out upon first sight. The reasons were because the judge didn't feel the couple proved they were truly hurt by having their home visible on Streetview and felt they were using the lawsuit to draw attention to themselves. There was also the reminder that Google has the capability to blur out people or certain structures if certain individuals and their homes visible on Streetview become too much of a noted privacy concern.

Well, that sounds like the easiest lawsuit to throw out, doesn't it?

But did the judge overreact to what the initial lawsuit was saying and there's still a chance for people to use the law to request complete privacy?

All the issues at hand come down to the very existence of Streetview that's already been getting concerns from the media and individuals in the last year over what it could potentially do in the areas of stalking, terrorism and catching criminals. The fear is in Google continually improving the technology to the point where a user will feel as if they're right there on the street and able to see every little detail of neighborhood homes, address numbers or through windows. When you place the possibility of that occurring on a residence and the people living there having no clue it's there for the world to see, you have a new legal argument that the above judge appears to have missed...

You can be sure that the lawsuit against Streetview won't be the last one, despite its failure to be fulfilled. The most effective lawsuits, however, become successful only when something significant happens that's more serious than property devalue or duress over privacy. Once a person (or family) has something happen to them as the result of not knowing their house was on Streetview, then you'll start to see the legal ramifications come to the fore over Google's programs. The only way for that to stop is in the positive business proposition of Google promoting the use of Streetview as diffusely as possible so everybody can check to see if their home is there so it can be blurred out.

There's always going to be someone, however, who won't have a clue their humble abode is prominently displayed on Streetview. When that house is broken into or some other violent incident occurs outside or inside the home as the result of the criminal saying he or she used Streetview to incite the crime, then you have a legal case that could go all the way to the Supreme Court. Not that we obviously wish anything like the crimes mentioned above to happen to a single soul, even though a major legal discussion should be broached on whether we should have the power to see the property of private citizens on the net at will without notification before it goes public.

If there's any way for Google to eventually avoid a legal storm, it may have to be in notifying every person who has their image or home on Streetview by mail so they'll be in the know they're there. That would obviously be a major undertaking and expense on Google's part they likely will never take.

The worst scenario is in terrorism taking place as the result of Google Earth and Streetview being used. Google's biggest nightmare would be hearing after the fact that a group of Al Qaeda followers used their programs to bring on another terrorism attack, bringing casualties worse than 9/11. There isn't a doubt terrorists are already using those programs to plot potential attacks in every major city. Even I regret writing a detailed tutorial on how to use Google Earth in 2007 that's been fairly popular on the net ever since then.

As much as Google is revolutionizing the net with their free and innovative programs, their adamancy in enabling us to view every detail of our world can't be done without eventual legal repercussions. Some might accuse the Streetview lawsuit of being Google's powerful influence and influencing a judge to throw out a lawsuit that could have led to legal chaos. While a Google bribe is unlikely, don't be surprised to see Streetview, Latitude and Google Earth debated in higher courts in future years where the program's creators will have the monumental task of explaining the reasoning behind the existence of their programs after it was proven they were used to cause something monumentally nefarious...



Published by Greg Brian

Business blogger/co-owner at BlogMutt where the author now (ghost)writes full-time. He also writes very visible pieces on movies, general entertainment and business for Yahoo! Contributor Network. In the...  View profile