Turning the Electronic Eye on Google

The National Legal and Policy Center claims Google is hypocritical in its privacy stance, and uses Google's Street View and Earth applications to find a senior Google executive's home. The experiment followed Google's claim in a court filing that privacy is tough to come by in a world of satellite imagery.

Google takes a lot of flak for what some politicians and pundits claim is a two-faced stance on privacy. Now a privacy watchdog is trying to show Google what it's like when its own satellite imagery software is turned against it.

The NLPC (National Legal and Policy Center) used Google's own Street View and Earth applications, which use camera and satellite images to provide layouts of locations on Earth, to pinpoint a senior Google executive's house in Palo Alto, Calif.
Within 30 minutes, the non-profit NLPC captured the outside gate and license plates of cars outside the Google executive's home. The NLPC also charted the distance from the street to the executive's front door and the most likely driving route the executive would take to Google's headquarters five miles away in Mountain View.
The NLPC linked to its investigative work here.
The NLPC's experiment was a reaction to legal statements made by Google in Pennsylvania court documents released this week and offered here by The Smoking Gun that privacy doesn't exist.
Google's statement came in response to an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit from Aaron and Christine Boring in Pennsylvania. The Borings' lawsuit contends that a Google vehicle equipped with a 360-degree panoramic camera on its roof drove down the married couple's private road to take images of their home.
Google conceded that the photos were taken while entering the Borings' driveway, arguing: "Today's satellite-image technology means that even in today's desert, complete privacy does not exist."

In the filing, Google argues that the views of the Borings' house from where Google snapped photos were not private and that satellite images already show similar views of the property.

A Google spokesperson clarified the "desert" comment for me today: "This citation was used to help frame the response and illustrate why we believe this suit is without merit. It should not be interpreted as a blanket statement on our views towards privacy. To be clear, Google respects an individual's right to privacy."

But the NLPC seized on the comment in the filing, claiming it contradicts Google's general public stance that it takes privacy very seriously, said NLPC Chairman Ken Boehm.

"Perhaps in Google's world privacy does not exist, but in the real world individual privacy is fundamentally important and is being chipped away bit by bit every day by companies like Google," Boehm said in a statement. "Google's hypocrisy is breathtaking."