After a legal battle that lasted two-and-a-half years, Google has been found guilty of trespassing on a Pennsylvania family’s property to take photos of their property for its Maps website.
However, the penalty is nominal: Google will have to pay only US$1 to Aaron and Christine Boring, who sued Google in 2008, seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
Earlier this week, Judge Cathy Bissoon, from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, wrapped up the case with a consent judgment, which means both parties agreed to the final resolution terms.
Back in 2008, the Borings charged Google with invading their privacy, acting negligently, being unjustly enriched and trespassing after a Google Street View car entered and photographed their Pittsburgh property — which includes a private road leading to their house — and the photo was published in the Maps site.
“This is one sweet dollar of vindication,” the Borings said in a statement.
The lawsuit was dismissed in February 2009, but the Borings appealed to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the dismissal and sent the case back to the lower court.
A Google spokesman said via e-mail that the company welcomes the case’s resolution. “We are pleased that this lawsuit has finally ended with plaintiffs’ acknowledgement that they are entitled to only $1,” he said.
However, Gregg Zegarelli, the Borings’ attorney, said the case history and its documents will help individuals, groups and government agencies taking legal or regulatory action regarding technology-related privacy violations and trespassing.
His law firm has set up a website about the case called Google Trespass. “The goal is to help others defend themselves and leverage their time and costs,” he said in the statement.
Google’s Street View cars ignited a privacy firestorm when the company announced in May that, in addition to snapping photos, the vehicles had also captured and saved Web traffic data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks since 2007 as they drove around.
The Street View cars were supposed to only record Wi-Fi network names (SSIDs) and their routers’ unique identifying numbers (MAC addresses), but a software glitch caused them to also grab and store data like the addresses of websites being visited, passwords and entire e-mail messages.
As a result, incensed individuals have filed civil lawsuits against Google, while regulatory agencies and elected officials in the U.S. and abroad have launched investigations.
Google has apologized repeatedly about the situation and has announced steps to tighten its privacy policies, employee awareness, procedures and protections.