Monday, July 23, 2007

What Good is Google's "Street Views" Function?

Lauren Jackson worked as a bank teller on Chicago’s West Side for twenty years. She owned her own home, had no family, and bothered nobody. Then she became ill with ulcerative colitis, the same disease that got her mother. Consequently, Lauren missed lots of work and lost her job. Alas, mortgage costs have no regard for human illness and unemployment, and Lauren inevitably fell behind. Hard times forced Lauren into desperate need for help with her mortgage payments. She heard of a company called Home Happy Financial that would allow her to sign the deed to her home over to their trust fund; they’d refinance her home and invest that money in a lucrative real estate deal that would earn a handsome some so that in five years Lauren would be able to pay off her entire mortgage. Meanwhile, she could stay in her home and make small monthly rent payments directly to HHF. She felt conflicted, but Lauren decided to go along with the deal. Though she had diligently researched the legitimacy of the company and consulted a lawyer before opting in, the HHF plan turned out to be a scheme cooked up by a guy named Felix Daniels whose office was based in Detroit. Lauren’s suspicions started to rise months after entering the deal when she received a letter from an unknown woman named Doreen Lyle, stating that there was foreclosure on Lauren’s house, and it was up for sale; Lauren could buy it from Doreen if she wished. Lauren flew into a ladylike rage. She bought a whip (because, cops told her, you can’t own a handgun in the city of Chicago), and she drove all the way to Detroit. She arrived at the address posted on all the letters from Felix Daniels’ HHF company and found the location to be nothing more than a UPS drop box. She didn’t get a chance to use her whip, so now Lauren Jackson is suing for fraud.

If only Google had offered its “Street Views” function for the city of Detroit, that would have saved Lauren Jackson a heap of trouble. She could have zoomed in on the physical location of the Home Happy Financial from her own home right at the start to see if such a place existed; she would have realized then she was being tricked. While Lauren is in the suing mood, she might as well sue Google, too, for discrimination. Why is it Miami, New York, San Francisco, Vegas, and Denver get the privilege of “Street Views?” Even if Lauren Jackson doesn’t sue Google, maybe people like Caitlin Jones, a low-profile New Yorker, won’t feel their privacy is being violated by “Street Views” zooming in on their buildings when they realize the function could be used to check up on addresses used by people concocting fraudulent schemes.

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