Google Street View or Google Snoop?

It's fun to look for your house, or maybe your car, or maybe you, on Google Street View. It's not so fun if the Google camera caught you walking out of a strip club, but still, streets are public property, and that's the chance you take when you exit onto a public sidewalk.

Google crossed the privacy line, though, when it trespassed on private property in rural Sonoma County.

Up a single-lane road outside Freestone, Google went past a gate with a "no trespassing" sign and captured images on private property. Several residences can be seen on the property, including an up-close shot of someone's living room window.

This isn't the first time Google has treated private property as if it were a public street. Google was sued for taking pictures along a private road in Pittsburgh. What's next? Pictures of nude sunbathers on private beaches? [more ...]

Google's response -- we didn't mean to -- isn't good enough.

As for photographing on private property, [Google spokeswoman Elaine Filadelfo] said the company tries to avoid it. "It is our policy to only gather photos on public roads," she said. "We'll certainly take down images taken on private property."

But once the images are online, it can become impossible for Google to stop their reproduction on other Web sites.

Google needs to supervise its Street View camera teams more closely to make sure they stay off of private roads. And it needs to double-check the images before it uploads them to make sure they were taken from a public vantage point. The service provided is Google Street View, after all, not Google Snoop or Google Trespass.

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  • Display: Sort:
    What I find disturbing is that it's (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Rhouse on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 06:22:56 PM EST
    corporate big brother not governmental big brother doing the spying.  Unless they were the low bid on a HSD intrusion project that BushCo. hasn't made public yet

    that should be DHS (none / 0) (#16)
    by Rhouse on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 08:37:09 PM EST
    I was aghast to see my house (none / 0) (#1)
    by Radiowalla on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 06:18:37 PM EST
    on the Google site.  The photo showed all the cars in the driveway with their license plates in full view.  

    It gave me a real feeling of unease.

    We got lucky sort of (none / 0) (#9)
    by Molly Bloom on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 07:33:42 PM EST
    They do have our house. Attached to the wrong street address- just up the street. You can scroll to the house though. Disconcerting is right.  

    Static archived photos? (none / 0) (#39)
    by ding7777 on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 10:08:44 AM EST
     the photo of my house is at least a year out of date.

    Well, the street view of my house in Philly (none / 0) (#2)
    by andgarden on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 06:21:43 PM EST
    shows my step-father's motorcycle in front the the house. You can even see a lamp through the window. Creepy.

    If you think that's creepy... (none / 0) (#5)
    by dianem on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 06:45:41 PM EST
    ...type your name into Google and find out all of the ways you are indexed. Of course, you may have a common name - it may not be distinctive enough to identify you amongst many others. I do have a distinctive name.

    I am very hard to find on Google (none / 0) (#6)
    by andgarden on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 06:49:03 PM EST
    but I sure know people who aren't. . .

    Well, my name not uncommon. (none / 0) (#8)
    by MarkL on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 07:21:40 PM EST
    Even with the middle initial there are lots of hits. Actually there is another academic whose area is close enough to mine (by keywords, not by subject) that I get a lot of hits for him even with my name, initial and keyword.

    If I put on my name... (none / 0) (#14)
    by dianem on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 08:21:51 PM EST
    ...I'm the only one I get. It's a bit surreal. I don't look very often, not because there is anything bad out there, but because it makes me feel very vulnerable to know that people can track me that easily. I know in my head that I have no real privacy - if somebody wants to spend a few bucks they can get virtually any information. But I don't necessarily like it, even if I recognize that it is an inevitable side effect of the computer age.

    Public privacy is contradictory (none / 0) (#4)
    by dianem on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 06:43:39 PM EST
    The only place we have any privacy is in our homes with the curtains closed. It is disturbing to realize this, but it's reality. If people want to have a private road, they need a gate to block it off. "No Trespassing" signs don't carry a lot of weight, even if people see them, which they often don't. If we want to have some kind of privacy that goes beyond that which we can attain by locking ourselves in our homes, then we need to create some kind of enforceable laws to describe the limits. I'm not sure that can be done, in all honesty. The internet is too open.

    I checked two friends in gated communities (none / 0) (#10)
    by Molly Bloom on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 07:37:18 PM EST
    One only had the satellite photo, the other had the street view photo that clearly showed my friend's house. Both communities have guard gates with guards.

    Is it illegal to take photos of houses? (none / 0) (#13)
    by dianem on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 08:19:20 PM EST
    I'm not sure about the logistics of that. If I take a photograph of my car and it has my neighbor's house in it, then I put it up on the net, am I violating their privacy rights? What if I live on a private road? What if I take a photograph of an interesting lawn ornament that is in somebody's yard? Can I post that? What if, instead of me personally, there is a web site that specializes in pictures of lawn ornaments? Can they post the image? We're getting into privacy issue's that are not clear. I'm sure that the law has something to say about "private" v. "public" land, but I'm equally sure that the laws were not designed to fit an era where anybody can publish information that can be seen instantly around the world.

    Those are all interesting questions (none / 0) (#17)
    by Molly Bloom on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 08:37:39 PM EST
    and outside my area of expertise. I am curious how google managed to get pass the guard gate in the one, but not the other.

    As a general proposition, you are not allowed in either neighborhood unless you are on a guest list and they don't let you in, until a resident gives their Ok.

    Another question- how much is this costing google and what are the logistics? Cell phone companies used to send out drivers with cell phones wired into a lap top checking their coverage and the opposition's coverage of a given area by driving the major arteries.   It is labor intensive.


    I Believe That You Have Copyright (none / 0) (#18)
    by squeaky on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 08:52:50 PM EST
    On the house you own. If a photographer wanted to use an image of your house or building they would have to get a release from the owner.

    Maybe google has a way around that or maybe they got the law was changed for them.


    Your homeowners insurance company (none / 0) (#27)
    by JavaCityPal on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 10:35:56 PM EST
    is out photographing your house on a schedule to make sure you are keeping the roof, and the structure free of major damage, etc.

    It would be impossible to isolate a photograph and not include the surrounding area. I have numerous photos of houses in my neighborhood when we have had a huge snowfall that deserved to be captured for years to come.


    OK (none / 0) (#28)
    by squeaky on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 10:38:16 PM EST
    But if they were to make a calendar for sale and your house was February, let's say, you could stop them, or collect fee as the terms for the release.

    Google isn't selling the photos (none / 0) (#29)
    by JavaCityPal on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 11:07:56 PM EST
    Just Like ATT and Verizon (none / 0) (#30)
    by squeaky on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 11:13:31 PM EST

    LOL (none / 0) (#31)
    by JavaCityPal on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 11:27:51 PM EST
    Google cars would have to be keeping pretty careful records, and I'm betting those are minimum wage paid contractors who are driving around the camera cars.

    Well (none / 0) (#21)
    by Steve M on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 09:24:32 PM EST
    There are two questions, whether you have the right to be in the place you're taking the picture from and whether you have the right to photograph whatever you're photographing.

    In regards to the first, if you live in a private community, you obviously have the right to be in your own front yard, but the photographer from Google does not.  So that makes a difference.

    In regards to the second issue, you are not permitted to "intrude upon the seclusion" of someone else, which would mean taking pictures of places that would normally be considered safe from public view.  Taking a picture of your neighbor's house from the street should be 100% fair game.  If you were to take pictures through the bedroom window with a telescopic lens, on the other hand, that would probably be an intrusion upon seclusion and would get you into trouble.


    In J school (none / 0) (#22)
    by echinopsia on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 09:45:40 PM EST
    They teach that anything you can see from public property may be photographed without asking anyone's permission. That includes views into windows and open doors.

    IANAL (none / 0) (#23)
    by squeaky on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 09:49:22 PM EST
    It ma be fair game to take a picture of your neighbor's house but if you wanted to use it for commercial purposes I believe that you would need a release.

    I believe that it works that way for commercial property in NYC. From what I understand I cannot use a picture I made of a particular house or building for commercial purposes without getting a release. The property owner can deny my use of the picture or demand a fee, AFAIK.


    As an aside. I wonder if they've had any (none / 0) (#34)
    by Rhouse on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 11:32:42 PM EST
    problems with business or company logos being reproduced in the Google set-up.  There are copyright and trademark laws that might be violated by the Google project.

    It's not illegal to take a pic of a house (none / 0) (#36)
    by Prabhata on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 11:39:05 PM EST
    from a public road, but it's illegal to trespass into a private road to take a pic.  It's the trespassing that's illegal.  One cannot inside a house to take a pic either because that's trespassing.

    It is creepy (none / 0) (#7)
    by Katherine Graham Cracker on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 07:10:34 PM EST
    I live is rural Western Sonoma County and it is creepy ...not as creepy as for one of the neighbors who is standing in front of his house.

    It's true in SF too.  

    "Informational Trespassing" (none / 0) (#11)
    by lambert on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 07:51:25 PM EST
    People should be able to copyright images of their property....

    (And by "people," I mean flesh and blood people, not fictive persons like corporations.)

    Celebrities, too? (none / 0) (#26)
    by JavaCityPal on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 10:31:29 PM EST
    Seems people think they deserve to have as much of their privacy invaded as those picture takers can manage.

    Oh, my pretty little Integra pre-step-daughter (none / 0) (#12)
    by Teresa on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 07:53:16 PM EST
    wrecking it is sitting in my driveway. I swear, I can see the license plate. I don't think I like this.

    Hit or Miss (none / 0) (#33)
    by Peter G on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 11:30:02 PM EST
    I'm happy to see, having just checked, that if you ask Google Maps for a Street View of my house in the Phila 'burbs you get a shot of the front yard of the house three doors up the street, partially obscured by a parked car, and you can't even see their house at all -- much less is it ours.  In fact, if you enter any of my neighbors' addresses, you get this same shot.  So apparently, at least for side-streets, a fair amount of it is just "nearby" or "approximate."

    gee (none / 0) (#15)
    by Jen M on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 08:32:40 PM EST
    they don't seem to have anything between PA and Richmond VA

    I wonder why they would skip over where I live and so many legislators and federal government employees and facilities are.

    It's a huge country, they will be filming (none / 0) (#25)
    by JavaCityPal on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 10:29:29 PM EST
    for a long, long time before they get every street.

    street? (none / 0) (#37)
    by Jen M on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 07:56:42 AM EST
    Im talking about the entire state of Marlyand, Washington DC and all of Northern Virginia

    Yikes! I just googles myself. All my campaign (none / 0) (#19)
    by Angel on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 09:20:41 PM EST
    contributions are listed as well as all the stuff I'm involved with in my community.  No privacy for anyone.  I do not like this.  

    uh, "googled" (none / 0) (#20)
    by Angel on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 09:21:05 PM EST
    Cell Phones, Video Cameras, etc. (none / 0) (#24)
    by JavaCityPal on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 10:26:59 PM EST
    Recording activities and objects and people has been made convenient, and almost expected. If we are carrying a cell phone, we're carrying a still camera and a video camera for our use when we see or witness something that we think is worthy of making a record of (police using excessive force, a robbery suspect, a car accident/hit and run vehicle with license plate, perhaps). So, where does the line get drawn?

    That google street car was driving around Seattle last week...it made the news. I checked and maps of my area aren't available, yet.

    Will we soon see signage with a universal symbol for no photographing? The law won't/doesn't do anything to the paparazzi who use zoom lenses to photograph the famous in the privacy of their homes and hotel rooms, and the public says that is the price they pay for being celebrities.

    The first batch of Google Earth shots released (none / 0) (#32)
    by Ben Masel on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 11:29:44 PM EST
    covered San Francisco. Clearly identifiable in front of the EFF's headquarters was one of the world's leading privacy rights Attys, Kevin Bankston, smoking a cigarette. He'd quit, his family learned of the relapse from the photo.

    Google does it (none / 0) (#35)
    by Prabhata on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 11:33:24 PM EST
    because it can.

    This game is over.... (none / 0) (#38)
    by kdog on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 08:11:22 AM EST
    Privacy as we knew it is dead as a door nail...technology has rendered it obsolete.

    Technology has improved our quality of life in many respects, a nasty negative side effect is you're on candid camera nearly 24/7.

    Mixed feelings (none / 0) (#40)
    by sj on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 11:50:45 AM EST
    Am living in the East on an indefinite job assignment, although my home is in Denver.  The streets all around mine were filmed, but for some reason my street was not -- which I'm happy about.  On the other hand, a video tour through my neighborhood was a welcome sight to a homesick heart.