CNET rekindles the Google StreetView trespassing controversy that we’ve written about a couple of times in the past (here and here). Google has said publicly and in email comments to us that its policy is to photograph public roads and stay off private property.
The CNET article effectively argues that Google is willfully violating and disrespecting those property rights and expectations.
In a separate event covered in the CNET article, Google’s Vint Cerf made, according to the Seattle PI, an unfortunate remark (which may be true as a practical matter) about privacy. He’s quoted as saying:
“[N]othing you do ever goes away and nothing you do ever escapes notice.” In an intentionally flippant moment, Cerf noted “there isn’t any privacy, get over it.”
Cerf subsequently softened and qualified his remarks (according to CNET):
“It was intended to be partly in jest and partly irony…I was trying to suggest that we really have entered a period when things are a lot less private. Think of the ease with which photos and videos can be taken, digitized, shipped around on the Internet, posted on YouTube or its equivalent.”
There are three sets of intertwined issues here:
1. What Google is actually doing (intentionally or unintentionally trespassing) 2. US and international privacy laws and rules 3. The PR ramifications of arguing against privacy
Let’s assume Google isn’t willfully violating “no trespassing” signs and private property rights. Privacy laws and rules are something of a moving target. As technology erodes privacy, as a factual matter, it also impacts “expectations of privacy” as a legal matter, at least in the US. So the less privacy we have, assert, and come to expect, the less privacy we have over time as a legal matter as well.
Whether or not Google actually believes (privately) that there’s no privacy, it is in fact ill advised for the company to aggressively take that position publicly. Admittedly, it must make those arguments in court document to defend itself against pending privacy and trespass litigation. But the company must walk a fine line and not champion a “big brother” position that plays into existing fears about Google’s market position.