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05/31/2010

Walker lawsuit shows that relying on computers is fine...up to a point

If your computer told you to drive off a cliff, would you do it? How about if it told you to walk down an unpaved highway with cars whizzing past you? Because that, apparently, is the course of action that Lauren Rosenberg decided upon, after being instructed by Google Maps.

Ms Rosenberg wanted to take a walk in Park City, Utah, and asked Google Maps how to get from one place to another. Google Maps told her, but didn't tell her very well, apparently. It told her to walk along a rural highway with no sidewalks. Rosenberg did as she was told, and was subsequently hit by a car. She survived, and is now suing the driver of the vehicle, along with Google, for giving her an unsafe route.

When you're searching for walking directions on the browser-based version of Google Maps, it warns you that the walking directions it gives you are experimental. However, it doesn't do that in the native Google Maps application on the iPhone. Those with Blackberries can comment here on whether the native app on that phone provides a warning.

But either way, shouldn't she have maybe used some common sense?

This isn't the first time that users of mapping systems have blindly followed directions. Last year, UK driver Robert Jones almost took his BMW off a cliff after trusting his satnav system a little too much. The year before that, a minibus driver drove his vehicle into a river after his satnav told him to. And in 2007, another driver proved less lucky, after following a road signposted as unsuitable for motor vehicles and ending up submerging her £96,000 Mercedes in water.

We know that the US is a particularly litigious society, but it seems a little unfair to sue Google for suggesting a walking route that was unsafe without claiming some personal responsibility. Computers and search engines are tools, not teachers, and you'd hope that, during the everyday course of events, people would rely on their own wits to keep them out of harm's way.

Danny Bradbury, MSN Tech & Gadgets

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Danny BradburyDanny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with 20 years' experience. He writes regularly for publications including the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Financial Post, and Backbone magazine. Danny also writes and directs documentaries.

Maurice CachoMaurice Cacho

Maurice Cacho is a Toronto-based journalist mixing his love for tech with a passion for news. He's also CP24's Web Journalist and appears daily on CP24 Breakfast and weekly on the channel's tech show, Webnation, discussing tech news and trends.

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