BoingBoing reader demonstrates misunderstanding of privacy

A BoingBoing reader is worried that Google is infringing on his privacy by taking pictures of his cat in a window in his house. In the United States, if you can see something from a public street you are allowed to take pictures of it. A lot of people don’t understand privacy law. I had one guy tell me once that he could keep me from taking pictures of him (he was in a public street). Now, I don’t recommend arguing with people, but he’s wrong.

If we’re going to protect our privacy, we need to understand where current law already is and where we need to write new laws. This isn’t one of them.

For more, look at the reactions of bloggers on TechMeme. “Creepy” says one headline. CNet asks for more examples of such “spying.” No, sorry, it’s not spying and it’s not creepy. If you can see it from a public street it’s not private and you should not expect ANY privacy.

These reactions demonstrate we need to have a new discussion of privacy in the industry, though. First we need to understand what privacy is and when we should expect it, and when we should be worried about infringements. We also need to understand the technology used here. One blogger seemed to think that this data is taken off of live cameras. It is not. It’s taken off of a truck driving around.

Hint: if you can see it from a public street it is NOT “private.” This is journalism law 101 folks. Geesh.

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Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, Scoble travels the world looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology for Rackspace's startup program. He's interviewed thousands of executives and technology innovators and reports what he learns in books ("The Age of Context," a book coauthored with Forbes author Shel Israel, has been released at http://amzn.to/AgeOfContext ), YouTube, and many social media sites where he's followed by millions of people. Best place to watch me is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RobertScoble

Comments

  1. People don’t understand U.S. privacy laws at all. I was at an internet cafe in a Burger King awhile back and a little girl was pressing her face up against the glass that separated the the computer room from the dining area and was making funny faces. I took a picture with my cell phone. Her mother saw me snap the pic and immediately came over and threatened to kill me, call her husband over and have him kill me, call the police and have them arrest me, and demanded that I delete the picture at once. It was a surreal experience to say the least.

  2. People don’t understand U.S. privacy laws at all. I was at an internet cafe in a Burger King awhile back and a little girl was pressing her face up against the glass that separated the the computer room from the dining area and was making funny faces. I took a picture with my cell phone. Her mother saw me snap the pic and immediately came over and threatened to kill me, call her husband over and have him kill me, call the police and have them arrest me, and demanded that I delete the picture at once. It was a surreal experience to say the least.

  3. You’re not entirely right, either. There’s a difference between snapping a picture for yourself and broadcasting that picture. Current law dictates that you need a “Talent release” for broadcasting images of people that are recognizable. So while snapping a pic of this guy’s cat is not a legal issue, you cannot simply distribute pics of people without their consent regardless of whether they are in public or not. (The exception to that being public figures.)

  4. You’re not entirely right, either. There’s a difference between snapping a picture for yourself and broadcasting that picture. Current law dictates that you need a “Talent release” for broadcasting images of people that are recognizable. So while snapping a pic of this guy’s cat is not a legal issue, you cannot simply distribute pics of people without their consent regardless of whether they are in public or not. (The exception to that being public figures.)

  5. Jeff: that is absolutely NOT TRUE and demonstrates that you don’t understand the law.

    You only need a release if you are using a person’s picture to endorse a company or a product in advertising or commercial speech.

    I can take a picture of you in a public street and put it into a newspaper without getting a release and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

    But, if I use it in an advertisement you can sue me for using your image without compensation.

  6. Jeff: that is absolutely NOT TRUE and demonstrates that you don’t understand the law.

    You only need a release if you are using a person’s picture to endorse a company or a product in advertising or commercial speech.

    I can take a picture of you in a public street and put it into a newspaper without getting a release and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

    But, if I use it in an advertisement you can sue me for using your image without compensation.

  7. Jeff: there is absolutely NO difference between public figures or private figures in photography law, by the way.

    You’re mixing up libel law. There IS a difference there between public and private people.

  8. Jeff: there is absolutely NO difference between public figures or private figures in photography law, by the way.

    You’re mixing up libel law. There IS a difference there between public and private people.

  9. It raises some privacy issues, especially if they are using optical enhancements such as zoom, ect..

    What if they map infrared or xray the same way in the future. It may seem silly, but it’s not impossible. Especially not at Google.

    I could see ______ with X-rays from 10 feet away. It’s fair game?

    I think the privacy laws were not written with global inch by inch photographic mapping in mind. A lot of the laws in the US and Canada, and all over the world really, were written at a time when this type of technology was literally unimaginable. So I think a lot of that legislation needs revisiting today.

  10. It raises some privacy issues, especially if they are using optical enhancements such as zoom, ect..

    What if they map infrared or xray the same way in the future. It may seem silly, but it’s not impossible. Especially not at Google.

    I could see ______ with X-rays from 10 feet away. It’s fair game?

    I think the privacy laws were not written with global inch by inch photographic mapping in mind. A lot of the laws in the US and Canada, and all over the world really, were written at a time when this type of technology was literally unimaginable. So I think a lot of that legislation needs revisiting today.

  11. Chris: the law reads that if it’s visible from the street, you can take a picture of it.
    Xrays aren’t visible so are illegal to use to make images.
    Zooms ARE legal. Ever seen the kinds of lenses that photographers use to take pictures of celebrities?
    You say you’d rewrite the law. So, how? Personally I like the laws just as they are. And I think they DID predict that technology would bring new kinds of photography into being.

  12. Chris: the law reads that if it’s visible from the street, you can take a picture of it.
    Xrays aren’t visible so are illegal to use to make images.
    Zooms ARE legal. Ever seen the kinds of lenses that photographers use to take pictures of celebrities?
    You say you’d rewrite the law. So, how? Personally I like the laws just as they are. And I think they DID predict that technology would bring new kinds of photography into being.

  13. It gets a little more complicated than Jeff says; the cat’s human (ie, owner) is the owner of the little fur-ball’s ‘talent’. So if the picture was being used for commercial purposes, the photgrapher would have to get at the very least the owner’s permission, if not have to pay him/her a fee. And if the cat felt that its privacy was being invaded, it should definitely call a lawyer. Preferably one with a good fee-line policy.

  14. It gets a little more complicated than Jeff says; the cat’s human (ie, owner) is the owner of the little fur-ball’s ‘talent’. So if the picture was being used for commercial purposes, the photgrapher would have to get at the very least the owner’s permission, if not have to pay him/her a fee. And if the cat felt that its privacy was being invaded, it should definitely call a lawyer. Preferably one with a good fee-line policy.

  15. One more clarification: This is no expectation of privacy if your image is captured in a public place by the media as part of legitimate newsworthy story. But last I checked, Google was not a journalist, so that exemption shouldn’t apply.

  16. One more clarification: This is no expectation of privacy if your image is captured in a public place by the media as part of legitimate newsworthy story. But last I checked, Google was not a journalist, so that exemption shouldn’t apply.

  17. That’s right, Robert, if you were a journalist doing a newsworthy story.

    But as I said, if Google is not considered a Journalist, this exemption shouldn’t apply. If I’m walking down the street and I’m shot in a feature film, you better believe they need a talent release if I’m recognizable.

  18. That’s right, Robert, if you were a journalist doing a newsworthy story.

    But as I said, if Google is not considered a Journalist, this exemption shouldn’t apply. If I’m walking down the street and I’m shot in a feature film, you better believe they need a talent release if I’m recognizable.

  19. Jeff: there is no differentiation in the law to “journalists” doing “a story” and other entities taking images. The law is about taking images and distributing them.
    A feature film is a commercial property — one where you pay for access to that property, so there’s money involved — actors need to sign releases because by “acting” you are implying consent. Different than editorial in a newspaper, magazine, or online. If I shot a documentary film and you just happened to be in my frame I wouldn’t need to get a release from you. Also with movies there are compensation issues that come into play — and the release system for movies is really to protect movie houses against union action.
    Most lawyers will advise getting a release form signed just to be safe.

  20. Jeff: there is no differentiation in the law to “journalists” doing “a story” and other entities taking images. The law is about taking images and distributing them.
    A feature film is a commercial property — one where you pay for access to that property, so there’s money involved — actors need to sign releases because by “acting” you are implying consent. Different than editorial in a newspaper, magazine, or online. If I shot a documentary film and you just happened to be in my frame I wouldn’t need to get a release from you. Also with movies there are compensation issues that come into play — and the release system for movies is really to protect movie houses against union action.
    Most lawyers will advise getting a release form signed just to be safe.

  21. Robert, there are lots of individual pieces of information that can be obtained about a person. In the past you would have to do a ton of work to gather all this. In fact, doing all that work is what we would normally describe as spying on someone.

    We’re getting very close to the point where we can get an instant “dossier” on someone that would have required hiring a detective for >10K. This power (including photos) now becomes available at your (and anyone else’s) fingertips at zero cost, without you knowing who’s tracking you.

    As a public blogger you may a higher tolerance, but I think most people would find this at least somewhat kreepy.

  22. Robert, there are lots of individual pieces of information that can be obtained about a person. In the past you would have to do a ton of work to gather all this. In fact, doing all that work is what we would normally describe as spying on someone.

    We’re getting very close to the point where we can get an instant “dossier” on someone that would have required hiring a detective for >10K. This power (including photos) now becomes available at your (and anyone else’s) fingertips at zero cost, without you knowing who’s tracking you.

    As a public blogger you may a higher tolerance, but I think most people would find this at least somewhat kreepy.

  23. Mike >As a public blogger you may a higher tolerance, but I think most people would find this at least somewhat kreepy.
    That’s true and something I’ve written about before, particularly in the past few weeks as social search engines like Spock have come out (along with Google’s new History feature).
    But, it’s important for us, as we discuss the new “lack of privacy” that we actually understand what the law says and what it was designed to protect.
    Walking in the street (or a cat in a window) is NOT what it was designed to protect.
    Thanks to new technology we do, indeed, need to have a conversation about privacy and what it means in today’s world, but we need to start that conversation from a place based on what privacy actually is, and what today’s laws actually say. Jeff, for instance, demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what the laws actually say. That, to me, is worse than having Google or other advertising systems figure out that I’d rather drink a Diet Pepsi than a Coke.

  24. Mike >As a public blogger you may a higher tolerance, but I think most people would find this at least somewhat kreepy.
    That’s true and something I’ve written about before, particularly in the past few weeks as social search engines like Spock have come out (along with Google’s new History feature).
    But, it’s important for us, as we discuss the new “lack of privacy” that we actually understand what the law says and what it was designed to protect.
    Walking in the street (or a cat in a window) is NOT what it was designed to protect.
    Thanks to new technology we do, indeed, need to have a conversation about privacy and what it means in today’s world, but we need to start that conversation from a place based on what privacy actually is, and what today’s laws actually say. Jeff, for instance, demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what the laws actually say. That, to me, is worse than having Google or other advertising systems figure out that I’d rather drink a Diet Pepsi than a Coke.

  25. So I set up shop across the street from you and snap pics of your kids whenever they’re outside. Or pics through their bedroom windows whenever the shades are open. BUT I CAN SEE IT IN PUBLIC SO I’M NOT TEH CREEPY! Whatever, dude.

  26. So I set up shop across the street from you and snap pics of your kids whenever they’re outside. Or pics through their bedroom windows whenever the shades are open. BUT I CAN SEE IT IN PUBLIC SO I’M NOT TEH CREEPY! Whatever, dude.

  27. n00b: that’s different than having a truck drive down the street which captures an image of your cat. There’s stalking laws that come into place if you “setup shop.”

    But, it wouldn’t be an invasion of privacy. At least not according to US law.

  28. n00b: that’s different than having a truck drive down the street which captures an image of your cat. There’s stalking laws that come into place if you “setup shop.”

    But, it wouldn’t be an invasion of privacy. At least not according to US law.

  29. “Jeff: there is no differentiation in the law to “journalists” doing “a story” and other entities taking images. ”

    Wrong-o

    A newspaper in Alabama published a photograph of a woman whose dress was lifted by jets of air at a Fun House at a county fair. The court ruled that the photograph, which showed her panties, had no “legitimate news interest to the public” and upheld an award of $4166 to plaintiff, for invasion of her privacy. Daily Times Democrat v. Graham, 162 So.2d 474 (Ala. 1964).

  30. “Jeff: there is no differentiation in the law to “journalists” doing “a story” and other entities taking images. ”

    Wrong-o

    A newspaper in Alabama published a photograph of a woman whose dress was lifted by jets of air at a Fun House at a county fair. The court ruled that the photograph, which showed her panties, had no “legitimate news interest to the public” and upheld an award of $4166 to plaintiff, for invasion of her privacy. Daily Times Democrat v. Graham, 162 So.2d 474 (Ala. 1964).

  31. Don’t forget that American privacy laws are good for… Well, America.
    Privacy laws are different for each country and in some, only because you can be seen from the streets doesn’t mean that people can photograph you from that angle and simply distribute around. That’s quite a different intent than just catching a glimpse of someone through his/her window when walking down the street.
    I kind of like the protection that type of approach has. It would probably put tons of papparazzi out of business… :)

  32. Don’t forget that American privacy laws are good for… Well, America.
    Privacy laws are different for each country and in some, only because you can be seen from the streets doesn’t mean that people can photograph you from that angle and simply distribute around. That’s quite a different intent than just catching a glimpse of someone through his/her window when walking down the street.
    I kind of like the protection that type of approach has. It would probably put tons of papparazzi out of business… :)

  33. Electronic survellience isn’t quite as straightforward as you make it seem – I don’t think that this guy is crazy at all. You may be correct about privacy law, but that doesn’t make the issue any less creepy.

    Helen Nissenbaum has a thoughtful paper (http://crypto.stanford.edu/portia/papers/RevnissenbaumDTP31.pdf) in which she summarizes current privacy law and how it fails to capture the “creepiness” associated with new technologies.

    Essentially, the problem is that taking a photo of someone’s house and broadcasting it on the Internet is that it violates contextual integrity: as a home owner, obviously you expect that others can see your house. However, with digital cameras and the Internet, millions of people can see you and your house without needing to be physically near the house. In the past, even if the local paper published photos of your house on the front page, it probably wouldn’t be picked up across the planet.

  34. Electronic survellience isn’t quite as straightforward as you make it seem – I don’t think that this guy is crazy at all. You may be correct about privacy law, but that doesn’t make the issue any less creepy.

    Helen Nissenbaum has a thoughtful paper (http://crypto.stanford.edu/portia/papers/RevnissenbaumDTP31.pdf) in which she summarizes current privacy law and how it fails to capture the “creepiness” associated with new technologies.

    Essentially, the problem is that taking a photo of someone’s house and broadcasting it on the Internet is that it violates contextual integrity: as a home owner, obviously you expect that others can see your house. However, with digital cameras and the Internet, millions of people can see you and your house without needing to be physically near the house. In the past, even if the local paper published photos of your house on the front page, it probably wouldn’t be picked up across the planet.

  35. Jeff: yup, there’s some gray area there, for sure. If I’m wearing clothing I have some expectation of privacy even if that clothing is temporarily removed due to wind.
    I wonder if someone is caught in a compromising situation in their bedroom by the Google camera, but they had a curtain that was blown open by a gust of wind. Would they win a similar court case today? Probably.
    At Microsoft the mapping team told me they had someone look at every inch of images looking for stuff that could get them in legal trouble. I wonder if Google is going to do that?
    News values have changed since 1964 too. Back then we wouldn’t have had 24 hours a day of Anna Nicole Smith the way we did on CNN and Fox earlier this year.

  36. Jeff: yup, there’s some gray area there, for sure. If I’m wearing clothing I have some expectation of privacy even if that clothing is temporarily removed due to wind.
    I wonder if someone is caught in a compromising situation in their bedroom by the Google camera, but they had a curtain that was blown open by a gust of wind. Would they win a similar court case today? Probably.
    At Microsoft the mapping team told me they had someone look at every inch of images looking for stuff that could get them in legal trouble. I wonder if Google is going to do that?
    News values have changed since 1964 too. Back then we wouldn’t have had 24 hours a day of Anna Nicole Smith the way we did on CNN and Fox earlier this year.

  37. I thought there was some limitation to using a zoom when you are photographing inside a home from the outside (i.e. I can’t set up a huge zoom lens outside your home and zoom into the back bedroom from a living room window, for example).

    In public, it is fair game. But I think the naked eye thing applies when shooting into a private residence. Maybe I am remembering incorrectly.

  38. I thought there was some limitation to using a zoom when you are photographing inside a home from the outside (i.e. I can’t set up a huge zoom lens outside your home and zoom into the back bedroom from a living room window, for example).

    In public, it is fair game. But I think the naked eye thing applies when shooting into a private residence. Maybe I am remembering incorrectly.

  39. Found some more detail on the zoom lens issue from USA Today article. It appears that my memory is still intact.

    “You can take any photo that does not intrude upon or invade the privacy of a person, if that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

    Someone walking in a mall or on the street? Fair game. Someone standing in a corner, looking at his new Prozac prescription? No. Using a long lens to shoot someone in an apartment? No.”

    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/andrewkantor/2005-12-29-camera-laws_x.htm

  40. sMoRTy71: actually you’re right if I remember my media law class properly. It has to be reasonable that you could actually see what you’re photographing from the street. So, getting a crane or doing some other “unreasonable” method wouldn’t be allowed.

    The thing is, the resolution on Google’s Mapping Truck would be what you’d reasonably see from the street.

  41. Found some more detail on the zoom lens issue from USA Today article. It appears that my memory is still intact.

    “You can take any photo that does not intrude upon or invade the privacy of a person, if that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

    Someone walking in a mall or on the street? Fair game. Someone standing in a corner, looking at his new Prozac prescription? No. Using a long lens to shoot someone in an apartment? No.”

    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/andrewkantor/2005-12-29-camera-laws_x.htm

  42. sMoRTy71: actually you’re right if I remember my media law class properly. It has to be reasonable that you could actually see what you’re photographing from the street. So, getting a crane or doing some other “unreasonable” method wouldn’t be allowed.

    The thing is, the resolution on Google’s Mapping Truck would be what you’d reasonably see from the street.

  43. Keep in mind that the photographs in question contain images of individuals (and cats) only incidentally. They add no value to the photographs, in fact it could be argued that they detract from the value.

    The goal apparently is to take pictures of inanimate objects like buildings, which is expressly permitted by law. If pictures of buildings are expressly permitted, it would seem unreasonable to expect that people might not be included incidentally as clearing streets, especially in cities, of all people in order to take a photograph is nearly impossible.

    Like most things in U.S. law it probably isn’t cut and dried and you can likely find a judge somewhere who will agree with any argument you make if you look hard enough. But let’s be reasonable here. In this case, Google doesn’t seem to be out with the intent to violate anyone’s privacy.

  44. Keep in mind that the photographs in question contain images of individuals (and cats) only incidentally. They add no value to the photographs, in fact it could be argued that they detract from the value.

    The goal apparently is to take pictures of inanimate objects like buildings, which is expressly permitted by law. If pictures of buildings are expressly permitted, it would seem unreasonable to expect that people might not be included incidentally as clearing streets, especially in cities, of all people in order to take a photograph is nearly impossible.

    Like most things in U.S. law it probably isn’t cut and dried and you can likely find a judge somewhere who will agree with any argument you make if you look hard enough. But let’s be reasonable here. In this case, Google doesn’t seem to be out with the intent to violate anyone’s privacy.

  45. RE: #24 Robert, you’re right. I think, in this case, Google is clearly showing stuff you’d see with the naked eye from the street.

  46. RE: #24 Robert, you’re right. I think, in this case, Google is clearly showing stuff you’d see with the naked eye from the street.

  47. “Someone standing in a corner, looking at his new Prozac prescription? No.”

    My highschool english teacher, who I won’t name was seen walking out of a store where they sell pornographic videos. This was way back when. This information and media was shared with the entire school.

    What if Google van catches a man cheating on his wife kissing another woman or walking out of a XXX store, or even hanging out with X rival corporation.

    Would this person be entitled to damages caused by the redistribution and publication of these images?

    BTW, I was sure that certain zoom was not permitted in my earlier comment.

  48. “Someone standing in a corner, looking at his new Prozac prescription? No.”

    My highschool english teacher, who I won’t name was seen walking out of a store where they sell pornographic videos. This was way back when. This information and media was shared with the entire school.

    What if Google van catches a man cheating on his wife kissing another woman or walking out of a XXX store, or even hanging out with X rival corporation.

    Would this person be entitled to damages caused by the redistribution and publication of these images?

    BTW, I was sure that certain zoom was not permitted in my earlier comment.

  49. Robert — what Google is doing is probably not illegal, but it is creepy. And as someone who was closely involved with the recent Kathy Sierra events, I am surprised that you of all people don’t recognize that this can make people feel threatened.

    I feel very, very uncomfortable that someone can sit at their leisure at their desk, call up a highly detailed photo of the outside of my home, and view it from a number of different angles to decide what would be the best way to break into the building, all without having to be on the scene.

    That bothers me. I’ve always felt safer in an apartment building than in a free-standing house, but this is going to take away some of that perceived security advantage.

  50. Robert — what Google is doing is probably not illegal, but it is creepy. And as someone who was closely involved with the recent Kathy Sierra events, I am surprised that you of all people don’t recognize that this can make people feel threatened.

    I feel very, very uncomfortable that someone can sit at their leisure at their desk, call up a highly detailed photo of the outside of my home, and view it from a number of different angles to decide what would be the best way to break into the building, all without having to be on the scene.

    That bothers me. I’ve always felt safer in an apartment building than in a free-standing house, but this is going to take away some of that perceived security advantage.

  51. rslux: interesting point. On the other hand, my security systems will not be visible to cameras from curbside. So, how would my house be targeted over yours by just looking at photos?

  52. rslux: interesting point. On the other hand, my security systems will not be visible to cameras from curbside. So, how would my house be targeted over yours by just looking at photos?

  53. A few thoughts:

    1) What’s creepy is to think of entire neighborhoods with blinds shut tight…each homeowner protecting themselves from Google (MS, Mapquest, whoever 2.0). Sometimes, doing things just because you can is a bad idea.

    2) Combing through all the images would be a cool use of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

    3) The ever-increasing rate of surveillance ought to spawn off a robust anti-surveillance industry. Imagine the demand for items that cloak people/things from cameras and other detectors.

  54. A few thoughts:

    1) What’s creepy is to think of entire neighborhoods with blinds shut tight…each homeowner protecting themselves from Google (MS, Mapquest, whoever 2.0). Sometimes, doing things just because you can is a bad idea.

    2) Combing through all the images would be a cool use of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

    3) The ever-increasing rate of surveillance ought to spawn off a robust anti-surveillance industry. Imagine the demand for items that cloak people/things from cameras and other detectors.

  55. .

    “IANAL is a Usenet and chat abbreviation (acronym) for “I am not a lawyer.” A similar abbreviation, TINLA, stands for “This is not legal advice.”
    One or both of these abbreviations usually precede opinions about law. The use of these abbreviations serves as a warning for the reader not to take the opinion as professional legal advice. Many jurisdictions have legal restrictions on actually giving or even appearing to give legal advice, or otherwise practicing as a lawyer without legal qualifications and official registration. Rendition of legal advice by a person who is not licensed to do so can be the basis for a charge of Unauthorized practice of law.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IANAL

    .

    .

  56. .

    “IANAL is a Usenet and chat abbreviation (acronym) for “I am not a lawyer.” A similar abbreviation, TINLA, stands for “This is not legal advice.”
    One or both of these abbreviations usually precede opinions about law. The use of these abbreviations serves as a warning for the reader not to take the opinion as professional legal advice. Many jurisdictions have legal restrictions on actually giving or even appearing to give legal advice, or otherwise practicing as a lawyer without legal qualifications and official registration. Rendition of legal advice by a person who is not licensed to do so can be the basis for a charge of Unauthorized practice of law.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IANAL

    .

    .

  57. If I take your picture on the street, and then upload it to my blog, and my blog has some Ads on it, is that legal? Do you need a release just to use it on a site, that may or may not make money?

  58. If I take your picture on the street, and then upload it to my blog, and my blog has some Ads on it, is that legal? Do you need a release just to use it on a site, that may or may not make money?

  59. Here in the Uk our privacy laws are very similiar. Not sure what its like in the states but here we have the highest number of CCTVs in the world. People here who complain about having their pictures taking our mostly oblivious of the fact they they are being filmed and recorded by many cameras. I can’t remember exactly but the newswpapers here have quoted but some figure like on average in a UK city you are “captured” by CCTV on average 300 times a day or something. And not a damn thing you can do about it – its public.

  60. Here in the Uk our privacy laws are very similiar. Not sure what its like in the states but here we have the highest number of CCTVs in the world. People here who complain about having their pictures taking our mostly oblivious of the fact they they are being filmed and recorded by many cameras. I can’t remember exactly but the newswpapers here have quoted but some figure like on average in a UK city you are “captured” by CCTV on average 300 times a day or something. And not a damn thing you can do about it – its public.

  61. Robert, regarding public photography: Let’s say a guy is taking pictures of my young daughter. It feels like I should be able to walk up to the guy and say “I don’t want you to do that” and he should respect that. I’m not sure if I would have any legal grounds, but it just feels like there should be.

  62. Robert, regarding public photography: Let’s say a guy is taking pictures of my young daughter. It feels like I should be able to walk up to the guy and say “I don’t want you to do that” and he should respect that. I’m not sure if I would have any legal grounds, but it just feels like there should be.

  63. If you learn one thing about privacy and libel law, nothing is ever fixed, depends on what judge, what lawyer, what State, and the community standards definitions of “unreasonable”, “abandonment”, “curtilage”, “false light”, “appropriation”, “public figure”, “newsworthy”, “clear and present”, “consent” and on and on. Case by case, really…

  64. If you learn one thing about privacy and libel law, nothing is ever fixed, depends on what judge, what lawyer, what State, and the community standards definitions of “unreasonable”, “abandonment”, “curtilage”, “false light”, “appropriation”, “public figure”, “newsworthy”, “clear and present”, “consent” and on and on. Case by case, really…

  65. And here I was thinking that there was never a legit reason to post bestiality in my window. Surely Google wouldn’t want to broadcast my home then, right?

  66. And here I was thinking that there was never a legit reason to post bestiality in my window. Surely Google wouldn’t want to broadcast my home then, right?

  67. Robert, you are wrong in this.

    The 4th amendment offers up the “reasonable expectation of privacy” as regards to government intrusion; this also extends to private entities. As this is an enclosed home, the photo is infringing upon that reasonable expectation.

    The Supreme Court has also held that the “curtilage” (look it up) of a home is subject to all of the privacy protection that a person’s home is. That does not apply to this photograph, but could certainly apply to others– attached carports, for example.

    The satellite view from Google does not infringe, mainly because they are not taking photographs of the inside of people’s homes. This, however, does infringe.

    Please read this summary of US privacy law and then correct your argument.

  68. Robert, you are wrong in this.

    The 4th amendment offers up the “reasonable expectation of privacy” as regards to government intrusion; this also extends to private entities. As this is an enclosed home, the photo is infringing upon that reasonable expectation.

    The Supreme Court has also held that the “curtilage” (look it up) of a home is subject to all of the privacy protection that a person’s home is. That does not apply to this photograph, but could certainly apply to others– attached carports, for example.

    The satellite view from Google does not infringe, mainly because they are not taking photographs of the inside of people’s homes. This, however, does infringe.

    Please read this summary of US privacy law and then correct your argument.

  69. As my esteemed former colleague JD has prompted: I am not a Lawyer, nor do I play one on TV.

  70. As my esteemed former colleague JD has prompted: I am not a Lawyer, nor do I play one on TV.

  71. You can photograph anything you can see from the street, but that doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want with it. Certainly images used for commercial purposes need permission and images that purposely embarrass or slander the individual are not protected either.

    Privacy laws were written in the same vein as free speech laws. They were both designed to promote discussion and the open expression of ideas, NOT to allow people so say or do absolutely whatever they want absolutely whenever they want. We have free speech but that doesn’t mean you can yell “Fire” in a crowded theater.

    Also, what about manipulation? How do we know these images haven’t been manipulated and are not exactly “what you would see from the street”?

    It simply isn’t as simple as “if you can see it from the street, you can photograph it and do whatever you want with that image.”

  72. You can photograph anything you can see from the street, but that doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want with it. Certainly images used for commercial purposes need permission and images that purposely embarrass or slander the individual are not protected either.

    Privacy laws were written in the same vein as free speech laws. They were both designed to promote discussion and the open expression of ideas, NOT to allow people so say or do absolutely whatever they want absolutely whenever they want. We have free speech but that doesn’t mean you can yell “Fire” in a crowded theater.

    Also, what about manipulation? How do we know these images haven’t been manipulated and are not exactly “what you would see from the street”?

    It simply isn’t as simple as “if you can see it from the street, you can photograph it and do whatever you want with that image.”

  73. Robert,

    I’m sorry, but until you cite statutes (i.e. the Code #, or a Supco decision or two) you’re going to have to do better than just say ‘the law says’….

    The laws vary from state to state to state on this. Do a google search on ‘through the window’ and privacy search and you’ll start to see the differences. You can look at this google book and start to see examples of where things might get dicey…

    http://books.google.com/books?id=HEL0M-boMpgC&pg=PA51&lpg=PA51&dq=privacy+law+picture+%22through+the+window%22&source=web&ots=9gwuXu_8C2&sig=Dm9M3G-HUwfQjBdx8yPL5-k5w54

    Here is another summary (which actually mentions through the window situations)

    http://www.publicdomainsherpa.com/rights-of-publicity-and-privacy.html

  74. Robert,

    I’m sorry, but until you cite statutes (i.e. the Code #, or a Supco decision or two) you’re going to have to do better than just say ‘the law says’….

    The laws vary from state to state to state on this. Do a google search on ‘through the window’ and privacy search and you’ll start to see the differences. You can look at this google book and start to see examples of where things might get dicey…

    http://books.google.com/books?id=HEL0M-boMpgC&pg=PA51&lpg=PA51&dq=privacy+law+picture+%22through+the+window%22&source=web&ots=9gwuXu_8C2&sig=Dm9M3G-HUwfQjBdx8yPL5-k5w54

    Here is another summary (which actually mentions through the window situations)

    http://www.publicdomainsherpa.com/rights-of-publicity-and-privacy.html

  75. Robert although you are right, I think that US law and the Law in Britain (where I am) were framed on the same basis. It is legal to show anything which someone standing in a public place could have seen. If you invade someone’s privacy by getting a ladder and shooting with a powerful lens, or by infra-red or by X-ray that’s out of order.

    But there is a difference between what was under consideration when laws were framed – newspapers which are not indexed, and putting something in a database on the internet where it can be found by anyone, anywhere for a long period of time.

    Still: look on the bright side, the average person in Britain is recorded on CCTV 300 times per day, and has no idea who by or what they are doing with the data. The police want to be keep data from automatic license plate recognition cameras for 2 years and scan 50 million plates a day by next year (in a country with 20 million vehicles). At least with Google you know what they have on you.

  76. Robert although you are right, I think that US law and the Law in Britain (where I am) were framed on the same basis. It is legal to show anything which someone standing in a public place could have seen. If you invade someone’s privacy by getting a ladder and shooting with a powerful lens, or by infra-red or by X-ray that’s out of order.

    But there is a difference between what was under consideration when laws were framed – newspapers which are not indexed, and putting something in a database on the internet where it can be found by anyone, anywhere for a long period of time.

    Still: look on the bright side, the average person in Britain is recorded on CCTV 300 times per day, and has no idea who by or what they are doing with the data. The police want to be keep data from automatic license plate recognition cameras for 2 years and scan 50 million plates a day by next year (in a country with 20 million vehicles). At least with Google you know what they have on you.

  77. Thanks for trying to poke a hole in our false sense of privacy. Scott McNealy reportedly said in January 1999
    “There is no privacy, get over it.” It’s a statement that rang true then and even more so now.

  78. Thanks for trying to poke a hole in our false sense of privacy. Scott McNealy reportedly said in January 1999
    “There is no privacy, get over it.” It’s a statement that rang true then and even more so now.

  79. This is an interesting subject and a difficult one but why do people keep assuming that what is legal is also “right”? My experience is that law and justice only intermittently come in contact with one another. Just because something can be done does not mean it should be done. I think a lot of people who now don’t think much about this “mapping” will one day come to a different understanding of the subject.

  80. This is an interesting subject and a difficult one but why do people keep assuming that what is legal is also “right”? My experience is that law and justice only intermittently come in contact with one another. Just because something can be done does not mean it should be done. I think a lot of people who now don’t think much about this “mapping” will one day come to a different understanding of the subject.

  81. This is a very interesting topic, but all the discussion about what is and isn’t legal is missing the point. The question that people are reacting to is what SHOULD the law be. The fact of the matter is that our consitution doesn’t grant citizens a right to privacy. However, that framework was written over two hundred years ago before the age of photography, television, radio, computers, internet and all other forms of knowledge-on-demand. K.O.D. has fundamentally changed the game and what the “cat lady” (who seems to me to be smart and thoughtful woman concerned about the use of technology) and many others are asking is where should we draw the line? I believe there is a difference between what a person could see about your life from the street and disseminating that on the internet for everyone and anyone with high resolution photos cross-indexed to your address, phone number, name, employment data, … you name it.

    The question is, how do we protect “privacy” without stagnating new technologies and useful information gathering?

  82. This is a very interesting topic, but all the discussion about what is and isn’t legal is missing the point. The question that people are reacting to is what SHOULD the law be. The fact of the matter is that our consitution doesn’t grant citizens a right to privacy. However, that framework was written over two hundred years ago before the age of photography, television, radio, computers, internet and all other forms of knowledge-on-demand. K.O.D. has fundamentally changed the game and what the “cat lady” (who seems to me to be smart and thoughtful woman concerned about the use of technology) and many others are asking is where should we draw the line? I believe there is a difference between what a person could see about your life from the street and disseminating that on the internet for everyone and anyone with high resolution photos cross-indexed to your address, phone number, name, employment data, … you name it.

    The question is, how do we protect “privacy” without stagnating new technologies and useful information gathering?

  83. it’s a slippery slope heading down towards Google X-Ray Vision, Google Remote Hypnotic Suggestion, Google’s Invisible Hand and Google Time Stop/Rewind…

    it’s all right there in the Advanced Dungeons And Dragons Dungeon Masters’ Guide…

    -srini

  84. it’s a slippery slope heading down towards Google X-Ray Vision, Google Remote Hypnotic Suggestion, Google’s Invisible Hand and Google Time Stop/Rewind…

    it’s all right there in the Advanced Dungeons And Dragons Dungeon Masters’ Guide…

    -srini

  85. Robert Scoble (post 31) asked the question how exactly one house might be targeted over another using information from Street View.

    This is an interesting problem. Thieves, especially of the roving, opportunistic type, often simply drive around looking for soft targets (open doors, no evidence of security, expensive items in garages, etc).

    What if, and I am just being hypothetical here, a thief were to use Google Street View to find residences with open garage doors, use the zoom to see if there are bikes, camping gear, tools, etc, in plain sight? He could then put that place on his “hot list”; a list of homes whose owners might be overly lax with security or too trusting.

    What if, a ring of car thieves seeking a particular item (a specific make/model of car, or a car equipped with aftermarket rims), were to use the site to locate a prospective target?

    Granted, since the photos only represent a split second in time they are not probably as effective as “casing” in person, but also using the website carries a lot less risk.

    These are just a couple ways in which a street view may help a thief or miscreant narrow a target. Again not anything that likely couldn’t be discovered in person, but it does illustrate the point I believe that a few have alluded to; that there is usually an opportunity to use information maliciously, and that the more information is provided, and the wider the audience, the more likely it is that the information will be used in such a manner.

  86. Robert Scoble (post 31) asked the question how exactly one house might be targeted over another using information from Street View.

    This is an interesting problem. Thieves, especially of the roving, opportunistic type, often simply drive around looking for soft targets (open doors, no evidence of security, expensive items in garages, etc).

    What if, and I am just being hypothetical here, a thief were to use Google Street View to find residences with open garage doors, use the zoom to see if there are bikes, camping gear, tools, etc, in plain sight? He could then put that place on his “hot list”; a list of homes whose owners might be overly lax with security or too trusting.

    What if, a ring of car thieves seeking a particular item (a specific make/model of car, or a car equipped with aftermarket rims), were to use the site to locate a prospective target?

    Granted, since the photos only represent a split second in time they are not probably as effective as “casing” in person, but also using the website carries a lot less risk.

    These are just a couple ways in which a street view may help a thief or miscreant narrow a target. Again not anything that likely couldn’t be discovered in person, but it does illustrate the point I believe that a few have alluded to; that there is usually an opportunity to use information maliciously, and that the more information is provided, and the wider the audience, the more likely it is that the information will be used in such a manner.

  87. There’s a long list of the ways in which Google’s Street View images can be used – good and bad. The more important question is, “Why is Google making these images? What does Google stand to gain?” It’s not art and it’s not news, and it’s not benevolent or benign.

    True, Google has a charitable arm, but Google is first and foremost a for-profit corporation, and Street Views is likely being used to sustain and expand its user-base in a manner that translates to market share, revenue, cash flow, and profits.

    Doesn’t that mean the images are being used in a commercial, for-profit context? As such, shouldn’t Google be required to obtain property and model releases when applicable?

    As far as privacy is concerned, my personal opinion is that the way Google is recording the images is not entirely an invasion of privacy under current law. I don’t want anyone photographing me, my family, my house, or my car without permission, but I can’t stop it from happening.

    Privacy issues are more relevant when we think about who and how the information can be used to defame and or endanger. But can Google be held responsible for any illegal activities facilitated by Street Views? Can gun makers be held responsible for murders? Can Burger King be held responsible for obesity? The answers are never clear-cut.

    We need policies and regulations around projects with major social implications, like Street Views. For the same reasons we require Environmental Impact Assessments and Reports to mitigate disturbances to the environment, the application of new technologies and the media they generate should also be reviewed and regulated before implemented.

    I think an immediate halt on the creation of additional imagery and the dissemination of existing footage is appropriate until reasonable parameters can be established around what is legitimate public concern and welfare.

  88. There’s a long list of the ways in which Google’s Street View images can be used – good and bad. The more important question is, “Why is Google making these images? What does Google stand to gain?” It’s not art and it’s not news, and it’s not benevolent or benign.

    True, Google has a charitable arm, but Google is first and foremost a for-profit corporation, and Street Views is likely being used to sustain and expand its user-base in a manner that translates to market share, revenue, cash flow, and profits.

    Doesn’t that mean the images are being used in a commercial, for-profit context? As such, shouldn’t Google be required to obtain property and model releases when applicable?

    As far as privacy is concerned, my personal opinion is that the way Google is recording the images is not entirely an invasion of privacy under current law. I don’t want anyone photographing me, my family, my house, or my car without permission, but I can’t stop it from happening.

    Privacy issues are more relevant when we think about who and how the information can be used to defame and or endanger. But can Google be held responsible for any illegal activities facilitated by Street Views? Can gun makers be held responsible for murders? Can Burger King be held responsible for obesity? The answers are never clear-cut.

    We need policies and regulations around projects with major social implications, like Street Views. For the same reasons we require Environmental Impact Assessments and Reports to mitigate disturbances to the environment, the application of new technologies and the media they generate should also be reviewed and regulated before implemented.

    I think an immediate halt on the creation of additional imagery and the dissemination of existing footage is appropriate until reasonable parameters can be established around what is legitimate public concern and welfare.

  89. >Doesn’t that mean the images are being used in a commercial, for-profit context?

    So are all images in newspapers or magazines and model releases aren’t required for those.

  90. >Doesn’t that mean the images are being used in a commercial, for-profit context?

    So are all images in newspapers or magazines and model releases aren’t required for those.

  91. Robert: Again, Street Views is not news reporting.

    Newspapers and magazines give context to images by constructing words around it that are relevant to society, even if it’s just a caption. And the context needs to be newsworthy (whatever that means), relatively objective and not slanderous.

    That’s why the picture of the woman at the county fair who’s dress blew up (see post #18) that was published in the newspaper was determined in court to be an invasion of privacy and the plaintiff was given an award.

    Google gives no context to Street Views. Rather Street Views gives context to the masses to do with it as they please, and is therefore an irresponsible move on Google’s part.

    And that brings me back to the additional points I made in my last post, which you haven’t addressed in any way…

    Privacy issues are more relevant when we think about who and how publicly disseminated information can be used to defame and or endanger. While we can’t blame Google for the misuse of a free and seemingly benign resource, we need policies and regulations around projects with major social implications that initiate a democratic discussion in advance of release.

    Robert: I appreciate your involvement in this discussion. You raise interesting points. Please see my comments more holistically and respond accordingly. What’s your overall position on the debate?

  92. Robert: Again, Street Views is not news reporting.

    Newspapers and magazines give context to images by constructing words around it that are relevant to society, even if it’s just a caption. And the context needs to be newsworthy (whatever that means), relatively objective and not slanderous.

    That’s why the picture of the woman at the county fair who’s dress blew up (see post #18) that was published in the newspaper was determined in court to be an invasion of privacy and the plaintiff was given an award.

    Google gives no context to Street Views. Rather Street Views gives context to the masses to do with it as they please, and is therefore an irresponsible move on Google’s part.

    And that brings me back to the additional points I made in my last post, which you haven’t addressed in any way…

    Privacy issues are more relevant when we think about who and how publicly disseminated information can be used to defame and or endanger. While we can’t blame Google for the misuse of a free and seemingly benign resource, we need policies and regulations around projects with major social implications that initiate a democratic discussion in advance of release.

    Robert: I appreciate your involvement in this discussion. You raise interesting points. Please see my comments more holistically and respond accordingly. What’s your overall position on the debate?