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Google Businesses The Internet Privacy

Google Says Complete Privacy Does Not Exist 543

Posted by samzenpus
from the open-books dept.
schliz writes "In a submission to court, Google is arguing that in the modern world there can be no expectation of privacy. Google is being sued by a Pennsylvania couple after their home appeared on Google's Street View pages. The couple's house is on a private road clearly marked as private property." Here is our previous story about Google Street View privacy issues.
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Google Says Complete Privacy Does Not Exist

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:02AM (#24414371)

    military installations, the CIA, the NSA, and other sensitive areas- just to see if there really is no privacy in the US.

  • I hope they win (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:05AM (#24414393)


    I hope they win. Privacy does exist. Get bent I don't want you in my house.

  • by cashman73 (855518) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:06AM (#24414397) Journal
    Google is more or less correct. If people really want "true privacy" in today's world, then they really have to never leave their house, never access the internet, never buy anything with a credit card or debit card, and don't forget your tinfoil hat. However, knowing a little bit more about this case, if the property owners in question did have a 'private property' sign up in front of the road that Google went down, then they did trespass onto their property to take the photos. If that's true, then this case is closed. Plain and simple. You don't need any fancy shmancy explanations and definitions of "privacy" here. If there was no sign, then Google did nothing wrong.
  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:06AM (#24414403)
    This is what starts to happen when people don't bother to protect their privacy: the notion of privacy itself starts to vanish. If this argument flies, privacy will become a thing of the past, and people who to protect their own privacy will just be labeled as "paranoid weirdos."
  • by CountBrass (590228) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:08AM (#24414417)
    This is a complete nonsense. Just because some set of pillocks (Paris Hilton, Jordan, everyone on Big Brother) gives up their privacy or Google decides to build a business invading people's privacy doesn't take away my right to it.

    I hope the Court gives Google a big punch in the face in the form of an exemplary fine.

  • Re:Luddites (Score:4, Insightful)

    by stewbacca (1033764) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:12AM (#24414443)
    Driving up to someone's house on their "private property" (err, driveway) should never be illegal. Google is welcome to photograph the outside of my house as much as they like, since I don't consider it to be private, since there's no way for me to hide it from public view.
  • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:14AM (#24414481) Homepage Journal

    And when planes fly overhead and take pictures anyway, what are you to do?

    The government is one thing and can get this redacted easliy, but if google earth had to hide the data within the boundary of every single area of private property we wouldn't be left with much.

  • by (1265320) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:16AM (#24414497) Homepage

    If that's true, then this case is closed. Plain and simple.

    At the same time, is Google responsible for this? They've clearly instructed the hotographers NOT to do exactly this, and they did anyways, is this not a personal issue?

  • Re:Luddites (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:17AM (#24414505) Journal

    That might be your opinion. It might be Google's opinion. But the law states otherwise. Google needs to obey the law.

  • by Threni (635302) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:22AM (#24414559)

    > There's a big difference in the detail available in most sat photos versus Street View. It'll be interesting to see what gets considered private
    > or public. Currently, it seems it's okay if you can tell I have a black car but not that my front door's red.

    So what happens once satellite photos are the same quality as photos taken from a few metres away?

  • by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:27AM (#24414623)
    God I hope it's the house shown here. [] I'd really like to see how well that argument of "lowering the value of their house" works. I mean, I'm pretty much seeing a small shack on some dirt with a coupla garages. But they do have a pool!
  • Re:Luddites (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sm62704 (957197) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:34AM (#24414683) Journal

    The key word in "private property" is private. To say that privacy doesn't exist is ludicrous. If you think otherwise, can I plant a spy cam in your bedroom? I hear your wife is a hottie.

    If I have a long, winding driveway with a "no trespassing" sign on it and you come onto my property uninvited, I'm calling the police AND my lawyer, having you jailed for trespassing and sued for invasion of privacy. Nobody has a right to be on my property without my permission.

    "Don't be evil" is clearly a hollow slogan, no more real than Pontiac's "we build excitement". If they were serious the slogan would be "do no evil".

    For once, the old slashdot geezer joke is serious: Get the fuck off my lawn.

  • Re:Trespass (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jeiler (1106393) <> on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:34AM (#24414685) Journal
    That's the problem--did the Google car actually drive down the "private road," or were the photos taken from a public street with a camera pointed towards the property? If it's the former, then Google's toast (and should be). But if it's the latter ... I have to admit I don't see the issue.
  • Re:Luddites (Score:3, Insightful)

    by entrigant (233266) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:34AM (#24414693)

    What makes the fact that part of their property is paved or might have some gravel thrown on it any different than the rest of their property? What if own a square mile of land with a house in the middle and a "driveway" a half mile long connecting to a public road at the end. Should I expect to be able to enforce my desire for uninvited individuals to enter my property and photograph it in that case?

    Lets remove the drive way. I simply get between my house and the road half a mile away using an off road capable vehicle. Would the be different, and if so, why? What if my property extended only 10 feet from the walls of my house? Sure, someone could photograph it from 11 feet away, but if their 9 feet away I can tell them to "get off my lawn".

    Photographing something from public property may not be something that should be prohibited, but on *my* property if I don't want you there you shouldn't be there camera in hand or not. This is especially true if I have no trespassing and private property signs posted at the entrance.

    Google didn't photograph their house from the public road. They drove *onto* their property which was clearly marked and started taking pictures intended to be published publicly.

  • by y86 (111726) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:39AM (#24414737)

    They simply cannot step onto the private property without permission.

    I'm pretty sure the post office steps on private property every time they go up on my porch to deliver a letter. The same with Fedex, UPS, tax appraiser and utility workers.

    I don't think that's a valid argument.

  • by startling (717697) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:40AM (#24414753)

    That said, if these people *really* cared about privacy, they could have put up a gate across the road to ensure no-one just wandered in.

    Why should people have to go the expense of erecting a gate? Why can't businesses like Google ensure their contractors and employees simply behave in a decent and proper manner and have respect for notices?

  • by Tim C (15259) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:41AM (#24414773)

    I'm not sure that the right to roam gives you quite as much freedom as you think it does - I can't spend long researching it, but google searches suggest that it applies to open countryside. You most certainly do not have the right to roam on to my driveway, for example, which is clearly private property.

  • Dear Google (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geminidomino (614729) * on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:45AM (#24414829) Journal

    Fuck you. If there's no such thing as privacy in the modern world, it's because fuckwit corps think they can do whatever they damn well please. Way to reveal yourself as one of them.

  • by m.ducharme (1082683) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:47AM (#24414853)

    In most of those cases, you probably want them to go on your property, or have agreed that they are allowed to go on your property under certain circumstances. You wouldn't want the forbid the mail man, Fedex or UPS from coming to your door, but you could if you want to.

    Utility workers have access as a condition of providing their service. I'm not sure about tax appraisers, they may not actually have the right to go on your property whenever they want. The city may be required to give proper notice (the definition of "proper" varying widely of course).

    But generally, all these people mentioned above have your (implied or explicit) permission to be on your property.

  • by Schraegstrichpunkt (931443) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:47AM (#24414857) Homepage

    The only legal requirement is that Google not set foot on property if it is marked as private property.

    Is that even a legal requirement? A sign marked "private property" isn't the same thing as a sign saying "no trespassing" or "private property---no photographing from beyond this point". I've seen lots of mall parking lots that say "private property"; From what I understand, unless the sign is more specific, you can still show up and do pretty much anything you want until the owner (or his agent, e.g. a mall employee) asks you to leave.

  • by nospam007 (722110) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:50AM (#24414889)

    >Nope. The only legal requirement is that Google not set foot on property if it is marked as private property....

    Marked how?

    What about Spanish-only speaking citizens?

    What about analphabets, blind people?

    What about other countries, for example India with 23 official Languages and more than 1200 languages spoken around the rural countryside, not to mention a couple of hundred million non-readers as well.

    Without even talking about Google Earth photographing topless people from Satellites in their backyard, what about ultralight planes covering the property?

    Or drones, should Google be allowed to use drones to make pictures?

    If not, why? Other companies use air photography too.

    I don't like being watched either, but they kind of have a point.

  • by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:50AM (#24414899)
    The "public" (whatever that means) has no rights. There are only individual rights, and those rights are only valid so long as one individual does not violate the rights of others. One person walking on your lawn doesn't do damage, but hundreds of them, over the course of months, will tear it up. Suppose your lawn was a convenient shortcut for kids going home from school. Is it perfectly acceptable for them to destroy your lawn, and you to have to repair it at your expense? Of course not.
  • by PhilHibbs (4537) <> on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:51AM (#24414909) Homepage Journal

    if these people *really* cared about privacy, they could have put up a gate across the road to ensure no-one just wandered in.

    Standard internet debate tactic, "if you don't take your point to a ridiculous extreme then it isn't valid".

  • Re:Luddites (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Schraegstrichpunkt (931443) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:52AM (#24414931) Homepage
    Is a "private property" sign the same as a "no trespassing" sign in the U.S.? Here, it's pretty meaningless; It basically means "this is privately-owned property; you're here at the leasure of the owner(s) and may be asked to leave at any time".
  • I'll call bullshit (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Moraelin (679338) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @08:57AM (#24414985) Journal

    Basically what you're arguing there is that because so many people can violate your privacy, then you don't have any expectation of privacy in the first place. And that your only recourse if you want "true privacy" is to never be in a situation where someone else can rape it for you. Which seems to me like complete bullshit.

    Let's apply that kind of reasoning to other kinds of interactions:

    - everyone can bash in your door and steal your computer, so you don't have any expectations against breaking and entering. If you want to have any, build a bunker under a mountain.

    - anyone can shoot you, so you don't have a right to life. If you want it, well, see the bunker idea above and wear a bullet proof vest with titanium plates when you have to go outside.

    - you _could_ get shipped to Guantanamo or, in one case, Syria for a bit of waterboarding and such, for something you said. So you might as well get over the ideas of rights like "freedom of speech" or "habeas corpus". If you don't like it, well, just make sure you never say or do anything that your government dislikes.


    I hope you can see the problem.

    We already have a bunch of laws granting you various rights, precisely _because_ it's so easy for others to violate them. You have a granted freedom of speech precisely _because_ it would be trivial for someone to restrict it for you. You have the "habeas corpus" right, precisely _because_ it would be trivial for someone to lock you up with no formal accusation or judgment or any chance to defend yourself. (And indeed it was the norm in the middle ages and it still is in some parts of the world.) Precisely _because_ it would be trivial for someone to kill you, we have laws against murder. Etc.

    So it seems to me pretty stupid to argue that, because an ISP or bank can and often will rape your privacy when you use their services, you have no expectation of privacy there. And/or that if you want any, you should live in a bunker without Internet or banking. We didn't apply that kind of free-for-all every-man-for-himself approach in any other domain. Why _would_ privacy be that readily given up just because someone else can violate it?

  • Re:Luddites (Score:2, Insightful)

    by phillous (1160303) <> on Thursday July 31, 2008 @09:01AM (#24415039)

    publicly accessible areas

    lets break that down... areas which are accessible, to the public.
    So you mean any land that any member of the public could get to. So tell me... how do people get to your front door if its not accessible? You have a moat? I want a moat...

  • Re:Luddites (Score:2, Insightful)

    by damienhunter (1248362) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @09:09AM (#24415157)
    They're not having charges pressed for trespassing, since this is in civil court, not criminal court, and these particular plantiffs sound motivated by the deep coffers Google has. If they can't get damages, then it isn't worth their while.
  • Re:Luddites (Score:3, Insightful)

    by something_wicked_thi (918168) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @09:11AM (#24415185)

    Define trespass. Solicitors are allowed on your property until they are asked to leave. Furthermore, government surveyors are allowed on your property for the purposes of map making and such. So you already don't have the protection you claim. The question is, can you combine these two parts of law to allow private surveying of the property? That's an open question for the courts to figure out, but Google seems to be on pretty firm ground. Unless there are fences or signs telling them not to enter or take pictures, then most likely, the courts will side with them.

  • Re:Luddites (Score:2, Insightful)

    by KudyardRipling (1063612) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @09:19AM (#24415313)

    This assumes that the individual must grovel before the government. This runs counter to the idea that public officers are public servants. It is not consistent with the American understanding of a republic. Oh, wait...

  • Problem is (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Arthur B. (806360) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @09:20AM (#24415329)

    Privacy is not a "right". Your only right is to keep your information private, but you do not have a right *to* privacy.

    In this case, it is a matter of trespassing and should be treated as such.

  • by reallocate (142797) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @09:22AM (#24415351)

    Google's submission discussed "complete privacy", not mere "privacy".

    Clearly, we have rights to photograph private property if we do it from a public vantage point. The fact that this house is privately held has no bearing here.

    The issue, it seems, is the impact of the "private road" sign. Does it mean permission must be granted before anyone, at any time, can use that road? Does the law argue that the "private road" sign compels all others to stay off that road?

    And, if I was Google, I'd look into the degree to which that "private road" and that property receive any kind of public support. Are police allowed on it to provide protection? The fire department? Are there beneficial tax consequences involved for someone maintaining a private road? Are any public monies used in any way in relation to that road?

    And, can the road's owners prove that they have maintained their privacy claim by prohibiting all others from using the road?

    BTW, a driveway with a "no trespassing" sign is not the same as a "private road" with no such sign. You may call the police and your lawyer, but asserting a privacy claim is not the same as proving it.

  • Re:Luddites (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @09:47AM (#24415695) Journal
    No, it doesn't. I don't give a shit about the government. I want to remain informed, and I do not have enough respect for any of you to hide who and what I am for the sake of your sensibilities, therefore I do not support systematically maintaining your own privacy at the price of my own ignorance. Now, I'm not going to hang my details on a flagpole while you retain the capacity to act in systematically maintained obscurity, but that doesn't mean I don't support stripping my own privacy away at the same time that yours is stripped away. Some might think that hypocritical, I consider it pragmatic.
  • Re:Luddites (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Halo- (175936) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @09:58AM (#24415855)
    Why I agree that "private property is private" the issue here is NOT that Google was on their private property.

    For example, if I take a picture of my child in my backyard, in the background you'll be able to see my neighbor's backyard. This isn't because I was on their property, but because the photons of light from the sun (or wherever) are bouncing off the objects in my neighbor's yard and traveling onto MY property. Saying: "you can't look at my property from somewhere else" is a bit ridiculous. If you don't like the physics of light, then you are free to put up barriers to stop it. (Fences, etc...)

    I'm a huge privacy advocate, but there is a big difference between collecting the emissions coming from a property and sending emissions into a property. For example, standing outside your property line and taking pictures? That should be legal, because nothing "violates" your space. Bouncing a laser beam off your property to create a LIDAR-like image? That gets a bit more dicey in my non-lawyer opinion.
  • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @10:01AM (#24415911)

    This is a complete nonsense. Just because some set of pillocks (Paris Hilton, Jordan, everyone on Big Brother) gives up their privacy or Google decides to build a business invading people's privacy doesn't take away my right to it.

    I hope the Court gives Google a big punch in the face in the form of an exemplary fine.

    Maybe now it should be, "Do no evil unless we can get away with it with legal fees that are lower than the estimated profit we can make from the project related to the evil," which is the same as pretty much any company.

  • Re:Trespassing (Score:2, Insightful)

    by David Chappell (671429) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @10:02AM (#24415931) Homepage

    I'm sure they'll agree that taking photos on private property counts as criminal mischief in Texas, assuming it's clearly posted as private property.

    Criminal Mischief is a defined offense, not "whatever we don't like". It basically means vandalism. To construing the act of photographing, as criminal mischief would be perverse.

  • by Wireless Joe (604314) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @10:06AM (#24415997) Homepage
    How about just photographing around the public streets around Washington DC? Street View keeps a clear radius around the capitol. Can you magine their privacy argument being hauled into a special committee meeting after they catch a congresscritter in an inapropriate situation in one of the DC parks?
  • by Zenaku (821866) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @10:25AM (#24416349)

    You are conflating the notions of "Private Property" and "No Trespassing." A sign indicating that some area is private property does not mean you can't be there. It simply informs you that you are not on public land, and that the owner of the property thus has certain rights to enforce the rules of their choosing.

    A shopping mall, for example, may make a rule stating that nobody under 18 can be in the mall without an accompanying guardian after 5 pm, or establish rules for where you can and cannot park your car, or ban skateboarding on the premises. A country club may ask you to leave because of your terrible BO. Whatever. The point is that it just means you are not on public land.

    A "No Trespassing" sign, on the other hand, both establishes that the land is private property (or government controlled, I suppose), and that the owner's rules include "don't set foot here without my explicit consent".

    "No Trespassing" usually implies "Private Property" but not vice-versa.

  • by mgblst (80109) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @11:06AM (#24417095) Homepage

    The police are the wrong people to ask regarding the law. They don't really care what the law is per se, just what makes their lives easiest.

    So different to lawyers, who don't really care what the law is per so, just what makes them the most amount of money.

  • by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @11:08AM (#24417127) Journal

    I would go one step further. Here in California, we have hundreds of roads marked "Private road." If you don't allow anyone to drive on them. it would be crippling in many parts of the Santa Cruz mountains. You get used to routinely ignoring the signs when looking at homes and lots for sale because 90% of the time, they're on roads marked as "private", usually with an accompanying "No trespassing" sign. To a degree, by listing the property in MLS, the owner gave you implicit permission, I suppose, but still, it's rather silly to expect an ungated road to be treated as anything other than a public road. Heck, private roads without gates like that shouldn't even be allowed to exist. The county should be forced to take over repair and maintenance of every road in the county. Either that or everybody on that road should get a reduction in the property taxes that they pay to make up for the reduction in services.

    The way I see it is this: you either have a private, gated community or you don't. If you don't, you have no real right to tell people they can't use the road as long as they aren't then trespassing into your yard. If we're talking about a driveway, that's completely different because it is not a shared resource (it only serves a single home), so the correct sign is "Private driveway. No Trespassing." Expecting people to not drive on a road merely because you didn't deed it over to the county is like expecting people not to walk from a public beach area onto the beach behind your house merely because you put a sign there. You're going from one similar area to another, and the area really shouldn't have any legal protection because it is a shared, semipublic resource.

  • by clone53421 (1310749) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @11:30AM (#24417505) Journal

    Funny thing is, if they had just kept quiet this would be a non issue. How many people would be going onto google maps and looking at their specific spot on the planet. Now that they have raised a stink, people from all around the globe will consider visiting the famous "privacy" home. Their actions are like someone jumping up and down saying "Don't look at me, don;t look at me".

    I can't speak for those particular folks, but if I were them, I wouldn't be worried about people checking out my house on Google because of the publicity; it wouldn't hurt me a bit if they did. It's the simple principle of the issue that would make me angry: "No harm, no foul" doesn't work. Google violated the rights of the landowners, and Google must be held accountable for that.

    "Don't be evil", indeed. "Complete privacy doesn't exist"? That's ludicrous... I wonder if Google's employees worry about that when they're going to the bathroom?

  • Re:Luddites (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sm62704 (957197) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @11:31AM (#24417539) Journal

    If you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to fear.

    My links refute the above statement. You do, indeed, have much to fear whether or not you're doing anything wrong, as the innocents on death row and the people being framed for drugs attest. An easy way to get revenge on someone is plant drugs in their car and call CrameStoppers and narc on them.

    Also, wrong!=illegal. Adultery is wrong, but it's legal. Smoling pot isn't wrong, but it is illegal.

    If you've something to hide, you better hide it well.

    That's just common sense. I wasn't arguing against that statement.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 31, 2008 @11:39AM (#24417731)

    Its a principle you idiot. If everyone just accept that google invades their privacy, google will just continue.

  • by mdm42 (244204) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @11:53AM (#24418005) Homepage Journal

    They did!

    They posted a sign saying, "Private Road" or similar (I don't know the exact requirements in your country. Arounf here, "Private Road" would suffice.)

    Google minions chose to ignore it. That's crossing the "Do No Evil" line!

    I would expect Google's founder to step up to the bar here and say "We're sorry. Our people screwed up."

    Frankly, if GoogleSat (or whatever) flies over my house (and I become aware of what they're doing) I'm going to shoot the fuckers down.

  • Re:Luddites (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stewbacca (1033764) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @11:56AM (#24418061)

    I worry about those who are arguing that it is indeed legal, and that there is nothing we can do about that.

    I worry about people who think just posting a "Private Drive" sign has any legal merit.

  • by Animaether (411575) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @12:25PM (#24418653) Journal

    As per the subject. Just because the following sequence of events may be likely...

    1. drive onto private property
    2. take pictures
    3. publish them publicly en masse
    4. get sued
    5. Streisand Effect!
    6. more people will (attempt to) drive on said private property ...that doesn't mean that Step 5 makes the problem start at Step 4. The problem started at Step 1.

    If we all just keep screaming "Streisand Effect!", then we would be forcing people into tacitly allowing anybody to just come onto private property (and other events leading to the aforementioned proclamations); it's almost like extortion "Allow me onto your property, or I will post to the internet that you do not allow it, and then you will see many more people like myself show up here. You don't want many more people to show up here, do you?".

    If Google, or their contractors, accessed private property that they should have known they were not allowed to, then Google should suffer the full legal consequences.

  • by Achromatic1978 (916097) <robert AT chromablue DOT net> on Thursday July 31, 2008 @12:47PM (#24419063)
    Everyone's a bad ass mother fucker on the Internet, right?

3500 Calories = 1 Food Pound