Does Google's Street View Encroach on Personal Privacy Rights?

Does Google's Street View Encroach on Personal Privacy Rights?

And there I was, opening my front door, as I typically do when I get home, but on that particular day my image was captured by one of Google’s black vans and added to the company's Street View feature, which connects street-level photos to Google Maps locations. And while I wasn’t getting a ticket or climbing over a gate, it was a bit odd to see myself there in front of my home. I don’t have any interest in having the image taken down (it’s actually hard to identify me since I was photographed from the back), but other people have voiced concerns about their images appearing on Street View.

Oakland resident Mary Kalin-Casey noted that the Street View image of her home shows her cat, Monty, sitting in front of the living room window; she posted to Boing Boing stating she would be looking into how she could have the image removed. The response on Boing Boing was quite negative, with many people stating that she should not have an expectation of privacy if her blinds are open. In an interview with the New York Times she further explained her point, stating, “The issue that I have ultimately is about where you draw the line between taking public photos and zooming in on people’s lives.... The next step might be seeing books on my shelf. If the government was doing this, people would be outraged.”

And Kalin-Casey’s point is worth considering. If you saw someone standing in front of your house snapping pictures through your living room, would you confront him? Do we now need to operate under the assumption that anything we do could possibly be recorded unless we’re in our homes with the blinds drawn?

Google does have a process that allows individuals to request that “objectionable” images be taken down. Kate Hurowitz, a spokesperson for Google, explained that “objectionable imagery includes nudity, certain types of locations (for example, domestic violence shelters) and clearly identifiable individuals, if those individuals request takedown. We routinely review takedown requests and act quickly to remove objectionable imagery.” She went on to explain that requests to remove images are reviewed promptly and in a few rare cases the company has preemptively removed Street View images.

While that may be the case, once an image is up, it’s quickly disseminated to a variety of sites, and even when images are taken down, they are often still viewable by simply scrolling back a block on the map and then zooming in on deleted content. One image on Geary Street in San Francisco that showed police activity was soon blacked out but is still viewable by moving down the street and zooming in. While Hurowitz would not say who requested that the Geary Street image be removed, she did state that “we haven't received any requests for removal from law enforcement.”

A collection of unusual Street View images is available on Wired's Threat Level blog



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While I generally agree with the level of concern voiced in this article, I am of the opinion that Google's StreetView is more often than not, used for good. The notion of vehicles roaming the streets taking pictures of everyone and everything falls easily into the "big brother" type of surveillance of the public that everyone fears, but at the moment, it seems like most people don't mind. I think most people that discover this service that Google offers while using Google Maps, finds that it can be very useful and not as evil as it first seemed.

For example, personally, I've been using StreetView frequently while looking for a new apartment. Everytime I find an interesting apartment on Craigslist, I pop the address into Google Maps and use the StreetView to see what the outside of the apartment and the surrounding area looks like.

Also, whenever I am planning on going to a restaurant or store that I've never been to, I use StreetView to see what the outside of the building looks like so I know what to look for when I'm driving by.

I would be very dissapointed if StreetView was handicapped by a bunch of new regulation. As long as they provide a way to remove content requested by users or content that is inappropriate, I would have no problem endorsing the service.



I hope I see the car thats taking picsof my home.   I've got a lot of people Iwant tomoon. :)



I completely agree, and i think that someone taking a picture of the street i live on, with my window in it, is just a little different than someone actually taking pictures of the inside of my house from outside the window. There is a difference, and yes if i thought google was trying to take pictures of the inside of my house, i would confront them. You do have a point though, people would be outraged if it was the goverment. But i think the cause would be a little different, between google and the goverment.


Mr E

"Do we now need to operate under the assumption that anything we do could possibly be recorded unless we’re in our homes with the blinds drawn?"

In a word, YES, and you should have operated under that assumption for many years now! When you're in public, there is no expectation of privacy, and that includes the windows of your house (the ones facing the street, at least), so you should keep that in mind. I applaud Google Street View for finally waking some people up to the fact that they are being recorded in public. In fact, they are probably caught on film/video virtually every single day of their lives.

Google would be perfect within their rights to tell the complainers to go pound sand, but at least they're taking the high road and removing some images upon request.

A picture of your cat is on Google, and you're upset? Get over yourself!



According to the Supreme Court Test: 

In Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967) Justice Harlan issued a concurring opinion articulating the two-part test later adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court as the test for determining whether a police or government search is subject to the limitations of the Fourth Amendment: (1) governmental action must contravene an individual's actual, subjective expectation of privacy; (2) and that expectation of privacy must be reasonable, in the sense that society in general would recognize it as such.

and again according to a general notion of privacy as held by current common law practice,  A persons home is both subjective of such privacy and objective and reasonable of such privacy.  Therefore an illegal search would have been conducted had the person taking the photo been an officer of the court or in the employ of such. 

As this was a private company there is no "search" illegal or otherwise however the private company has created a potentially damaging situation should the images they capture be subsequently used as evidence of a crime in that not only would such testimony or evidence be disallowed in a criminal trial but should a third party private to the evidence be found culpable of releasing information that was then later excluded on the basis of privilege would most likely be subject to litigation of an anti defamatory nature. 

The specific case of the woman's cat being displayed could also lead to potential negligence or malfeasance claims against Google or any other private organization if that woman's property was damaged or lives in her home were put in jeapordy based on the images being taken then subsequently released to the public without regard for the private citizens safety.  "the camerman has a responsibiilty of where he points his camera"  if harm befalls because of the camermans negligence or malfeasance the camerman is as guilty as the perpatrator






My words exactly!

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