Page last updated at 10:55 GMT, Friday, 1 August 2008 11:55 UK

Google accused on privacy views

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

Street View
Google created Street View to help people find where they are going

Google has been accused of "hypocrisy" over its stance on personal privacy.

In court documents defending a lawsuit brought against its Street View mapping tool it has asserted that "complete privacy doesn't exist."

But, points out the US National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) it responded to a Californian politician's concerns about its growth by saying that it "takes privacy very seriously".

"Google's hypocrisy is breathtaking," said Ken Boehm, chairman of the NLPC.

Private lives

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

The assertion about privacy came in court papers Google filed in response to a lawsuit from Aaron and Christine Boring. The couple launched their legal action when images of their Pennsylvania home appeared on Street View.

The photo-mapping system uses cars fitted with cameras to catch images of real-world locations that are added to its online maps.

According to the Borings, Google's "reckless conduct" in driving down a private road and publishing the photos caused "mental suffering" and hurt the value of their home. They are seeking damages of more than $25,000 (12,500).

In its court documents Google said: "Today's satellite-image technology means that even in today's desert, complete privacy does not exist."

It added: "In any event, Plaintiffs live far from the desert and are far from hermits."

The fact that every American is now subject to this type of scrutiny with the click of a mouse is frightening
Ken Boehm, NLPC

Google claims in its motion that "When plaintiffs discovered these images, rather than using the simple removal option Google affords, they sued Google for invasion of privacy, trespass, negligence and conversion."

Investigative news website The Smoking Gun has put the Google court papers online.

Google removed the photos of the Boring home and swimming pool from Street View after the couple filed its lawsuit in April.

In a statement explaining its comments a Google spokesman said there had been "misinterpretation" of its response to the Street View lawsuit.

"The response quotes and expands upon an existing legal opinion to help frame the response," he said. "It should not be interpreted as a blanket statement on our views towards privacy."

He added: "Google respects an individual's right to privacy. We have privacy protections built into all of our products.

Google's comments to the court irked the NLPC which it said came as the search giant asserted a robust defence of its privacy policies to Joel Anderson, a Republican member of California State Assembly.

Mr Anderson aired his worries about the effect a search advertising tie-up between Yahoo and Google would have on personal privacy in a letter to Jerry Brown, California's attorney general.

In an effort to turn the tables on Google the NLPC compiled a comprehensive amount of personal information on an unnamed Google executive in less than 30 minutes

It included the licence plates of cars outside the individual's home, the landscaping company the exec uses and even the name of the next door neighbour's security company.

The Centre used Google Street View and Google Earth to gather all the necessary information which it released publicly it said to "highlight the invasiveness of these technologies to individual privacy."

"The fact that every American is now subject to this type of scrutiny with the click of a mouse is frightening," said Mr Boehm.

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