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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Google: Trespassing For Your Own Good

People like ubiquitous things.  Like the phone company and the power company.  People don't mind monopolies, like the phone and power company, as long as they bring them the service and convenience they expect.

I suppose this is why people like Google.  Its ubiquitous and brings them service and convenience - or so they think...

Take, for example, Google Streetview.  This is a service that allows you to see on your browser what you might see from the window of your car if you were driving on a particular street.  Of course, its free to use.  Christine and Aron Boring, of Franklin Park, PA, recently found out just how much privacy they could expect from Google.

In 2008 the Google Streetview van drove approximately 1,000 feet up the Boring's private road clearly marked as "No Trespassing".  The couple sued Google in Federal Court.  The US Magistrate Judge Amy Hay initially dismissed the lawsuit claiming that the couple did not take reasonable steps to remove the pictures of their house from Google's service and that they were not harmed by the trespassing.  (The Boring's sought $25,000.00 US in punitive damages according to one account.)

The 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the trespassing portion of the case, finding that Google's behavior was not outrageous enough to warrant the punitive damages and requiring the parties to reach a settlement - which they did.  Google paid the Boring's $1 USD and both sides paid their own legal fees.

What's troubling here is that for some reason Google is allowed this behavior.  Recently a blue Jeep pulled up into my driveway.  I went out to see why it was there and the driver informed me he was evaluating my property for the purposes of tax assessment.  I asked him to leave at which point he stated that he would "return to the road".  Instead he remained where he was for several minutes until I went out again to ask him to leave (where I live tax assessment personnel and vehicles do not have the right to be on your property and must leave if you tell them too).

When my property is reassessed I plan to fight it based on this type of Google defense (also here): they have no right to be on my property without my permission - why should they be able to violate my property for their gain?

There has been an on-going issue with Google and page ranking, privacy, streetview collecting email and wifi information, and advertising.  Wikipedia has a large section related to Google and the problems it raises here.

So why to we accept this sort of behavior?

Because, I think, we tend to have a certain amount of "trust" in what seems like a nice, friendly "big brother".  For example, the old Bell phone system monopolized phone service for 70 or so years: there was no choice, no options other than what they gave you, you paid the rate they set.  Fortunately for us, I think, eventually technology overtook the Bell System and other forms of phone service began to proliferate.

In the days of the Bell System people could rely on phone service - even, for example, if you lost power (the Bell System had its own battery power for phone separate from that provided by power companies).  The government also required the Bell System to offer service consistently across all customers because it was a monopoly.

Today's phone environment is far, far different than it was in 1984 when the Bell monopoly was broken up: cell phones, VOIP, Skype, and a variety of other services are vastly different and, in many ways superior, to the old "phone system".

Your power company also operates as a monopoly - again one blessed by the state.   You have no choice about who runs electrical service to you house.  If you use that service you must pay what the monopoly says you must pay.

Google is an arrogant monopoly because that's what we make them into.

They are not like the power or phone company because we have a choice as to whether to use them.  Does anyone now remember Lycos or Alta Vista?  These were two prominent search engines that were the "Google" of their respective days.  Unfortunately they are now long forgotten.

Google knows that their reign as the best monopoly for search will last only as long as we let it.

That's why they are so busy trying to make a new business model (gmail, Chrome, and so forth) for themselves outside of search as I wrote about in the last post. 

They know their reign is limited by the whim of the people using their service.

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