I wonder what Alfred Hitchcock would make of the Borings.
In 1954, the master of suspense directed Rear Window, a thoughtful thriller about a man (James Stewart) who spies on his neighbors -- from his own apartment. Aaron and Christine Boring of Pittsburgh feel that Google is spying on them, and they've lodged a lawsuit on the all-powerful search engine because of it.
Their complaint? Google's popular "Street View" mapping feature has a photo of their home available to online searchers, which they feel is an invasion of their privacy. Even worse, they contend, the invasion of privacy has caused them "mental suffering and has lessened the value of their home, which they purchased for $163,000, according to the web site, the Smoking Gun.
I won't pile on and publish their street address -- the blogosphere has been all over this -- though one could find it easily enough, and besides, the pictures of the house are no longer on "Street View," but the Smoking Gun has photos of the home here. (OK, I'm somewhat piling on, but I'm not the first to observe that the Borings have a lot less privacy, now that they've made all of this public.)
So how does "Street View" work? Google-owned cars, outfitted with vehicle-mounted cameras that have numerous lenses and GPS navigation, drive out to various cities (over 40 so far, according to Wikipedia), taking photos of houses, buildings and anything else you can see from public streets. The Austin Statesman newspaper has an excellent article explaining how it all works, and noting that the police have occasionally stopped the Google cars, wondering what's going on, but apparently this is all legal.
Or not -- the Borings, I guess, will put that question to the test.
And I know what's going through all of our minds: Why didn't I think of doing that? I could soon be rich.
All right, obviously, everyone's going to have their own take on this. It's the dumbest lawsuit on the planet, at least since that guy tried suing his dry cleaners because his satisfaction wasn't guaranteed, and they just want to get some money from a giant with very deep pockets. Others are going to think of the whole Big Brother element and wonder if they have a point. Or maybe others will stop reading this now and decide to rent Rear Window.
Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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