Posted April 4, 2008 1:03 pm by with 31 comments

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We’ve heard all kinds of privacy concerns since Google Maps launched its Street View photos last May, most of which have had little legal merit. However, this week a new lawsuit about Street View images could change that.

Aaron and Christine Boring (yeah, seriously) of Pittsburgh, PA, are suing Google for posting images of their home which is located on a private road. The suit, filed Wednesday in Pennsylvania, asks for $25,000 in damages and the destruction of all photos of their home in all media (including film . . .). The suit does display a basic knowledge of the Street View program (other than the film part). It was filed on Wednesday (so this isn’t an April Fools’ joke).

What better way to protect your privacy, bought for “a considerable sum of money” (according to the Smoking Gun, records indicate that was $163,000), than to file a public record with the address and photographs of your private residence?

actual road signs at the end of Oakridge Ln, PittsburghBut seriously, there is some merit to some of their arguments. They claim that the private status of their road is “clearly marked.” I’m not sure which of the actual road signs from their road, pictured at right, is supposed to be the clearly marked one, but maybe it’s legible in person.

Perhaps best of all? The road numbering Google uses is so off that you actually can’t locate their house given their street address unless you know what you’re looking for.

However, the suit does get a bit more credible. It appears that Oakridge Ln terminates in the Borings’ private driveway. In the suit, they state that their property contains a 50-foot easement (presumably the road). So Google did, apparently, drive up their driveway and photograph their house, garage and pool. How this caused them $25,000 in damages remains to be demonstrated, of course.

But here’s one idea for a compromise: Google will destroy any photos taken from within fifty feet of the Boring house (ie on the Boring property). However, I’m not sure that just being on a private road, especially a portion not owned and controlled by the plaintiffs, constitutes an infringement of their privacy.

For images of the full court filing (and the Boring house), see The Smoking Gun. I didn’t include photos of the Boring house here because, well . . . they’re boring 😉 .

  • sharky

    Their house is such a blah little shack — it almost makes me think it’s a publicity stunt. Nobody would have gone looking for photos of their crappy house if they hadn’t sued.

  • I don’t know how sincere they are, but I agree that it’s a little creepy to think that a good fence and secluded property isn’t enough to maintain your privacy these days.

  • Yes, the lawsuit isn’t interesting per se. However it is important from legal standpoint. Boring’s have a right to their privacy and there is nothing wrong in trying to protect it. It appears Google trespassed trying to get photos of their property.

  • Occidental Zen

    I would just like to point out that the Allegheny County Website (The county wherein the residence is located) lists assessment information for tax purposes along with a picture of the residence that matches in distance and view one of the images on Google. So their information is already accessible in digital form on the internet. The county information is located here:

    Maybe they should sue the county next.

  • Will people ever learn that doing this sort of thing will have expontentially the opposite effect of what was intended by filing the suit?

  • Pingback: A new twist on the StreetView privacy concerns | Digital Earth Blog()

  • PS3

    Do details of the lawsuit get publicised as part of the proceedings? How ironic if someone suing on privacy issues had their address splashed across the media.

  • Did anyone see the pic of the drug deal caught on google photos/maps?

  • I don’t see a fence except for the barely there one they have around the pool, so I don’t know how they can be serious about suing for privacy.

    How do private roads work, anyway? I’ve never heard of a “private” road that was not blocked by a security gate of some kind. It seems to me that if just anyone can physically drive down the road (i.e. no gate) then it’s a little ridiculous to expect that much privacy.

  • Pingback: Straight Digs » Blog Archive » Google street view: creepy or helpful?()

  • Jordan McCollum

    A private road is one that isn’t public. Useful, eh?

    A private road is just one not owned by the state or city. It doesn’t have to be gated off to be considered private. (See: ).

    I don’t see a fence, either, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t care about their privacy, considering that they did go to the length of purchasing a home that far from public roads.

  • I guess that doesn’t seem to unreasonable – 25,000 isn’t even close to the 40 billion that most people suing companies ask for.

    @Iowa Forum can you post a link?

  • I think they have a right to sue, at least in this day and age. I’m sure Google would sue them if pics were taken of some ‘private’ Google property, so why not? They could have asked for permission and avoided the whole thing.

  • The article doesn’t make it clear, but the question comes down to the easement.

    If the homeowners aren’t the primary owners of the land that the private road runs over but just have an easement to use it, they have no standing to sue Google and the suit’ll get kicked out of court.

    If the homeowners actually DO own the land, but have just granted an easement for other people to use the private road to get to their house, they have granted Google permission to use it to get to their house, and Google has every right to take a picture along the way.

    Sorry, Jordan. This lawsuit actually does NOT have any legal merit at all.


    [link removed]

  • Interesting intersection of digital property and real one.

  • It’s an interesting case. I read the AP story last night and the couple didn’t seem unreasonable. Then again they’re going to gain more attention for suing Google than the images would have ever bought them.

    They also claim the images are going to reduce the value of the property, which I have a hard time seeing.

    They don’t seem like they’re all about the money. They’re fine with other pictures of their house that were taken from the public road. I don’t see where the damages are, but I think this might be more about the principle than the money.

  • This has to be one of the most ridiculous stories I’ve heard in a while. This all boils down to greed and trying to get something for nothing. 🙁

  • i think people have a right to their privacy. you wouldn’t want your address or a picture of your house published for everyone to see. you can never know if some pervert is watching.

  • Jordan McCollum

    @Jake—Considering that none of us here know the precise legal nature of the easement, the property line, etc., it seems a bit premature to dismiss the case out of hand.

    And, as I did mention in the article, of course they have no legal standing to ask them to destroy images taken from another person’s private property. However, any owner of the road could invoke that right, and if they do own their own driveway, they certainly have that right.

  • I think $25,000 is very high damage.

  • Will people ever learn that doing this sort of thing will have expontentially the opposite effect of what was intended by filing the suit?
    nope its a new get rich scheme,,

  • Well now, all the real estate appraisers beware.

    No photos of the subject property without an attorney’s document signed by all the owners.

    No photos of all the comparable sales, required by the banks, FNMA, and so on.

    Wonder how long it will take to get a loan processed with the Google case setting into place new laws on privacy?

    Lighten up – literally, for the camera that is – you cannot escape the camera’s eye, privacy laws or not.

    John McLaughlin, Day Traders – Consultant / Coach
    [link removed]

  • Kyle

    If the Borings truely value their privacy, you would think they would refrain from high-media interest lawsuits that will only result in a loss of privacy on a scale they have never seen before. It’s funny how these people believe that they are so interesting, that the rest of the world wants to surf around streets they’ve never been to, and will never go to so that they can invade their privacy. Don’t they realize, their last name is even boring?

  • I agree Kyle, that they are certainly adding more attention to themselves if they so value their privacy. But Google street views can easily impose a security threat in many levels. One cannot sleep easily at night knowing their property is being watched by millions on Google from anywhere in the world. Then again, it could help deter any breaking and entering crimes by looking at it on the other side of the spectrum. Lol

  • Jordan McCollum

    @John—Actually, in most cases it’s well-settled law that taking a picture from public property (a public road) is not an invasion of privacy. This was not a public road.

    Furthermore, I’m sure that somewhere in the agreement that most real estate agents have their clients sign there’s already some sort of clause to deal with this, if necessary.

  • Thanks Jordan,

    I’ve read lots of agreements – none that I’ve read address photos of owner property from a public or private street.

    Most professionals don’t stop at the street; they walk on property to get better pictures for their mortgage related clients.

    John McLaughlin, Day Trader – Consultant / Coach
    [link removed]

    Former Realtor & Real Estate Appraiser

  • Jordan McCollum

    And most professionals are there by invitation of the client (and/or someone who has made an offer on their house).

  • Angel

    Its not about value its about safety. They are showing peoples back yards and homes. This shows who ever is looking that there may be kids there or something of value. It also give thief’s a great view of a persons home and the access or hidden access ability. We must be careful at what we unleash and who it effects.

  • Angel

    It a gret tool for the local tax assesor

  • A

    So if I rent a house, how much is my privacy worth, and from whom (Google or my landlord) should I receive compensation? (Is a renter’s privacy worth less than that of a homeowner?)