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A view of Sydney Harbour in Sydney, Australia from Google Street View.

Google Street View Captures “Private” Moments—Some Want Privacy Back

April 07, 2009 11:27 AM
by Haley A. Lovett
An unfaithful husband, a burglar in a neighborhood, and others find their “private” moments made public by Google Street View; court battles favor the tech giant, though some have taken matters into their own hands.

Southern England Village Tries to Stop Google Street View Car

Residents of Broughton banded together to try and block the passage of a Google Street View car in an effort to prevent it from taking pictures of their neighborhood for the Street View tool.

The village had three burglaries in just over a month, and residents were worried that photos taken by the car might entice even more thieves to the area.

One resident, Paul Jacobs, told the BBC that the Street View cars take photos that are invasive and that can show the insides of people’s homes, “I don’t have a problem with Google wanting to promote villages. What I have a problem with is the invasion of privacy, taking pictures directly into the home.”

Eventually, the residents cleared and the Street View car was allowed to move on. A representative from Google told the BBC that there are “simple tools” on the Street View site that residents can use to remove photos of their homes.

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Context: Caught on camera, cheating husband, home interiors, sunbathing, unsavory activity

By Google Street View standards, the images of the Southern England neighborhood were quite ordinary. Immediately after the release of Street View in a few U.S. cities, users began noticing odd images in the tool: a man picking his nose, another person climbing up the side of an apartment building, girls sunbathing on the Stanford University campus, and even a group protesting outside of an abortion clinic.  

In England a wife filed for divorce when she noticed in a Google Street View image that her husband’s Range Rover was parked outside the house of another woman. Her husband had told her that he was going out of town on business.

But it isn’t just images of things and people on the street that can show up in Google Street Views, sometimes it even gets a peep inside someone’s home. When Mary Kalin-Casey of Oakland took a look at her address on Google Street View, she was surprised to see that her cat Monty was visible sitting inside the apartment. She told the New York Times that her problem was with Google taking images of the inside of her apartment: “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.”

Reactions: Couple sues Google for invasion of privacy, loses

In April of 2008, a Pittsburgh couple sued Google for invasion of privacy and trespassing for taking pictures with the Google Street View vehicle from their “private” road. The couple sought $25,000 in damages from Google.

In early 2009, a judge concluded that the couple could not prove that they had suffered as a result of the images. The judge also noted that the couple had not taken steps to have the photos removed from Google Street View. In a statement from Google, the company added, “We blur faces in Street View and we offer easy-to-use removal tools so users can decide for themselves whether or not they want a given image to appear in Street View. It is unfortunate the parties involved decided to pursue litigation instead of making use of these tools.”

Background: Google launches street view

Google launched its Street View tool as a feature of Google Maps in 2007. At first the tool only included its 360-degree picture views of the streets in certain major U.S. cities, but has since grown internationally, most recently launching Street View for cities in the U.K. and the Netherlands.

The tool was designed to help users locate landmarks or stores, or to preview cities before a visit using real photographs on a street level view.

A similar image-mapping tool on Amazon’s A9 search engine ran into trouble over photos showing women entering domestic violence shelters. Google took steps to avoid this particular complaint with its Street View tool.

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