Lawsuit Takes Google to Task on Misleading Walking Directions

Wed, Jun 30, 2010

Google, Yahoo! & MSN

In a recent lawsuit filed against Google, one woman claims that Google was at fault, or at least partially at fault, for her being hit by a car while crossing a road in the dark, following Google’s walking directions on her Blackberry. At about 6am, while a highway was relatively empty, the morning was still pitch dark, and Google was touting the road by the name, Deer Valley Drive, rather than the more well-known name, Route 224, she was directed to cross the road to a supposed sidewalk that existed there and a vehicle came and hit her while she was crossing in the dark.

To make matters even worse, there was a dirt path on her side of the road, away from the highway, but it was not shown on Google maps, even though it shows up on the Street view photographs you can find online. Unfortunately, no one at the company actually looks at these photographs. They’re simply set up for users. Instead, they rely on complex calculations of only the registered paths, walkways, and streets.

Google admitted when releasing the walking directions options that they still had a lot of kinks to work out and that in many cases there might be a better, safer route, which is why the product was released in beta and they highly stressed the use of common sense and following the rules set by the law.

That’s great, and they should do that – not to mention it could be next to impossible for this system to ever be perfect. But still, it is their system, so where does responsibility end? And how useful is a service with so much room for error?

The plaintiff’s lawyer claims that if Google is “going to tell people where to go, they need to have some responsibility to warn them that might not be the way to go.” He’s got a point. And they do have warnings about the beta nature of the service on their website, but unfortunately for this woman, those warnings apparently don’t appear on the Blackberry version, or any other mobile version. That’s pretty ironic and a bit dangerous considering that mobile users would be the most like to need this.

Young also alleges that Google didn’t have the warnings even on their website when the accident took place in January of ‘09. Google, meanwhile, says that they’ve had the warnings up since 2008, but since the suit has not officially been filed yet they have not said much about the case.

This in a way reminds me of the case recently filed against Facebook by the California man who claims his privacy has been abused because recent changes go against the contract he agreed to when setting up his account. While that might seem unrelated, what I see as the similarity with these cases is that the companies are refusing to accept responsibility because they say the user has a certain level of responsibility.

I do agree, and I’ve never been a fan for people who sue based on their own lack of common sense, poor decisions, or bad habits. But these companies put a lot of money and time into getting people to use their services as if it’s second nature – to heavily rely on them, trust them, and adapt this tech as a part of life.

We’ve got so many new features hitting us on our phones and so much new technology, we just expect it too work and take care of us. Sure, consumers need to slow down a little and take another look at the role of technology in our lives, but shouldn’t the people providing all these services and promoting this new paradigm have a role in slowing themselves down a little too? Shouldn’t they have a role in education about the dangers – not with just a message on their site – which isn’t readily available to mobile users.

At the very least, they should slow their roll a little bit and fine tune a service a lot more before releasing something that has so much room for error, embarrassing them and putting users in danger.

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This post was written by:

Anderson Lopes - who has written 6 posts on SEO Blog | SEO Marketing World.