Page last updated at 04:59 GMT, Thursday, 19 February 2009

Judge dismisses Google lawsuit

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

Street View car, PA
Google's Street View has been criticised on several occasions

A legal claim by a Pittsburgh couple that Google's Street View feature violated their privacy has been thrown out by a federal judge.

Christine and Aaron Boring sued the search giant after photos of their home appeared on the free mapping program.

The couple accused Google of privacy violation, negligence, trespassing and unjust enrichment.

In her ruling, Judge Amy Reynolds Hay said the Borings "failed to state a claim under any count".

"We are pleased the judge agreed the suit was without merit," said Google in a statement to the BBC.

Street View displays street level, 360-degree photographs of areas taken by specially equipped Google vehicles.

Failure

The photographs at the centre of the lawsuit, launched last year, were taken at the foot of Mr and Mrs Boring's driveway and shows their house, a pool area and detached garage. Signs marked the road as private.

The suit alleged that Google's Street View had caused Mr and Mrs Boring "mental suffering" and diluted the value of their home.

Google conference
Google removed the offending pictures after the lawsuit was filed

"While it is easy to imagine that many whose property appears on Google's virtual maps resent the privacy implications, it is hard to believe that any - other than the most exquisitely sensitive - would suffer shame or humiliation," Judge Amy Reynolds Hay of US District Court for Western Pennsylvania wrote in her 12-page decision.

The judge also suggested that the Borings' lawsuit made it possible for more people than ever to view the picture of their home.

"The Borings do not dispute that they have allowed the relevant images to remain on Google Street View, despite the availability of a procedure for having them removed from view," wrote Judge Reynolds Hay.

"Furthermore, they have failed to bar others' access to the images by eliminating their address from the pleadings, or by filing this action under seal," she said.

The publicity has actually perpetuated dissemination of the Borings' name and location, and resulted in frequent re-publication of the Street View images, the judge concluded.

"The plaintiffs' failure to take readily available steps to protect their own privacy and mitigate their alleged pain suggests to the Court that the intrusion and that their suffering were less severe than they contend," wrote Judge Reynolds Hay.

The Borings had sought $25,000 (17,700) in damages.

'Removal tools'

Google said the company respects individual privacy and provides ways for that privacy to be maintained.

"We blur identifiable faces and licence plates in Street View and we offer easy-to-use removal tools so users can decided for themselves whether or not they want a given image to appear.

Street View
Photos of real world locations are tied to maps

"It is unfortunate the parties involved decided to pursue litigation instead of making use of these tools," said Google in its statement.

Privacy concerns following the launch of Street View in 2007 prompted Google to start blurring faces of people caught in the photographs.

The company had argued earlier in response to the lawsuit that "today's satellite-image technology means that even in today's desert complete privacy does not exist."

"Privacy claims are not easy to prove," said Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre.

"One of the challenges is showing what's the damage, what's the harm. But Google is more at risk here because there is always the possibility someone might prevail in one of these cases, so I don't think the issue is resolved in terms of Google."



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