Tales of a Cyberstalker (Vol. 6 of 8)


Again, let’s say you have a ‘friend.’  We will call her Anita Life 2.0.  This time Anita Life is not 40 with four cats, but instead she is a thirteen-year-old Internet search engine with over 150 cats, I mean domain names.   This younger Anita Life is even more aggressive and unpredictable than the first.  Forget the Riesling, this Anita Life is on a cocktail of drugs and steroids.  She knows everything about you, tracks your every move, stores, sorts and catalogs the information for later use.  She even speaks a multitude of different languages and is well versed in a number of different fields.  But this time, Anita Life 2.0 is not YOUR personal stalker, but everyone globally shadow.  This global cyberpsycho makes Anita Life look as harmless as a newborn baby.

But is Anita Life 2.0 even possible?  Yes and her real name is Google.

I know it sounds crazy, but Google aka Anita Life 2.0 has taken keeping tabs on you to a level even the FBI and your ex-girlfriend combined could not match.  At the base level, Google Maps has made it easy to find anyone even on private roads, ask Mr. and Mrs. Boring[1] of Pennsylvania.  Apparently, their private road and no trespassing sign leading to Mr. and Mrs. Boring’s secluded private residence did not clue in Google.   Instead a Google representative drove up to their residence, parked in the Boring’s private driveway and took 360-degree pictures of their house and pool.

After viewing the post of their residence on Google Maps, Mr. and Mrs. Boring sued Google Inc. for amongst other things invasion of privacy and trespass.[2]  Unfortunately for the Borings, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania did not believe that Google did anything wrong.  The Court instead found that a reasonable person would not consider Google’s intrusion highly offensive.

Further, the Court opined that the reasonable person having ordinary sensibilities would not be shamed, humiliated, or have suffered mentally as a result of a vehicle entering into his or her ungated driveway and photographing the view from there.  To further add insult to injury the Court determined that the Borings do not allege that they themselves were viewed inside their home, which was relevant to their claim of seclusion.  To all of the Borings’ claims, the Court did not find that a reasonable person would be highly offended by Google’s action.  Apparently the Borings were too boring.  Maybe next time Google Maps comes around, the Borings will be sunbathing in the nude on the side of the pool.  For now, score one for Google and nothing for the ordinary person.

Fast forward one year to 2011, Joe Pessano of a Florida resident and two other Texas residents filed a class action suit against Google and its app makers for privacy violations on its Android phones.[3]   The class members claimed that Google and app makers did not disclose its comprehensive tracking of users nor did the defendants obtain users informed consent to the tracking OR its creation, storing and transmitting of individual users location and other sensitive data such as the user’s income, sexual orientation, ethnicity, camera phone and picture information.  In other words, if you have an Android phone, Google and its minions

 know where you are almost every minute of the day, how much you make, where you live and how to get there, whom you may be screwing and any pictures of that torrid affair the minute it is taken with your camera phone.  Even your crazy ex-girlfriend does not have that kind of access nor does she have the mental storage capacity to keep this information on you until eternity.  And although she may be a very savvy social media user, her powers of dissemination of information may be 1% of the speed to which Google can spread the word or in your case the picture evidence.  However, unlike your ex-girlfriend, it is doubtful that Google can be prosecuted for cyberstalking.  Even if a state prosecutor tried, a company cannot serve a sentence for cyberstalking.  Score 2 for Google.  However, Google can be sued for invasion of privacy.  Yeah!!!  But there is no guarantee that Google and its cohorts will be held liable under a privacy claim.  The case is still in the early stages of litigation and we will have to wait and see if Anita Life 2.0 gets the monetary equivalent of cellblock D for cyberstalking.

In the interim how do you get rid of your psycho computerstalker Anita Life 2.0?  Well, you cannot just decline to use the map function on your Android phone or decline any tracking feature.  That would be too easy and make too much sense, plus Anita Life 2.0 planned for just the moment when some users declined the function.  In the evident that some ordinary person decides to get a clue and disable the tracking feature, the Android phone continues to gather information on the phone, storing it in the device until you are ready to use the tracking feature again and then it forwards the information to Google or its minions.  This information is stored for advertising purposes.  The information sent to Google does not only include tracking information, but also other personal information gathered via use of the device and/or apps.   Note that the information gathered is more than what is necessary to use the app or the phone.  The silver lining – your crazy ex-girlfriend (Anita Life) is not the one gathering the information.  Yeah, I think!  The downside – Android users are charged for the transmission of the data to Google and its minions.  The information slows down the data speed causing the customer to incur more data charges.  The brilliant attorney in the Pessano v. Google case came up with this argument.

Well going back to the likelihood of the plaintiff’s winning this case, I am not sure how it will come down, but the federal government is not waiting for the answer.  The federal government proposed on May 9, 2011, the Do Not Track Online Act of 2011.  See http://commerce.senate.gov/public/?a=Files.Serve&File_id=85b45cce-63b3-4241-99f1-0bc57c5c1cff.  The Act allows individuals to opt out of the information gathering schemes illustrated above by Google, in the alternative, the provider must anonymized an individual’s personal information or delete the information based on the provisions of the service.  The penalties for a violation of the Act is an unspecified amount multiplied by the number of days that the person is not in compliance with the rule by an amount not greater than $16,000 with a max penalty of $15,000,000.  Unfortunately, the Act does not specify if the $16,000 is per act or an aggregate total imposed on one defendant.  Additionally, for a company as big as Google, $16,000 or $15,000,000 may be worth it if the company stands to collect billions, as mentioned in the Pessano lawsuit, for collecting and storing tracking and personal information on individual users.  Smaller companies may be deterred by the fine, however, companies as big as Google, may weigh the cost and benefit and determine that it is better for them to pay the fine than to forego the potential information of keeping tabs on you.  This is where Google may be more touched than your ex-girlfriend.  To scare you just a bit more, Google and its minions are not the only ones watching you and tracking you, read next week’s blog on all the other mobile devices.  I know this is like a train wreck that you cannot look away from.  Right now you really do not want to know any other ways in which your privacy has been compromised, but in the immortal words of G.I. Joe – knowing is half the battle.

By next week, you will have even more pieces to help you protect your privacy.  Today’s lesson is to encourage your congressmen to vote for the Do Not Track Online Act of 2011.  The bill is not perfect, but do you really want Anita Life 2.0 aka Google and her minions to continue the practice of monitoring you in its capacity as Big Brother?


[1] I did not make up this name.  See Boring v. Google Inc., 362 Fed. Appx. 273 (2010)

 

[2] Boring v. Google Inc., 362 Fed. Appx. 273 (2010)

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~ by sjohn7887 on November 29, 2011.

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