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Google Critic Killed in "Ironic" Car Accident: Struck by Google Street View Vehicle

05/20/2014 12:30 pm ET | Updated Jul 20, 2014

By Camille Johnson, San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego, CA. Prominent research psychologist and author Dr. Robert Epstein, age 60, was killed yesterday afternoon by a Google Street View vehicle while crossing Front Street in San Diego, where he has long resided. Although foul play is not suspected, Epstein's friends are calling the accident "ironic."

According to Daryn Thompson, a 30-year friend of Epstein's who also lives in San Diego, "We all know that Google isn't evil, so there's no chance this was deliberate, but it's troubling and ironic that it just happened to be an outspoken critic of Google who was hit. I'm sure it was just a coincidence, though."

Google Street View vehicles routinely drive up and down streets in countries around the world taking photographs of homes, businesses, and playgrounds. For several years, they also secretly recorded unencrypted Wi-Fi signals in more than 30 countries, collecting massive amounts of personal data. According to the company's promotional materials, "The Street View vehicles provide an invaluable service to consumers, who really like having their homes, businesses, and playgrounds photographed. If they didn't want them photographed, they wouldn't have put them there in the first place."

Epstein was a Ph.D. of Harvard University, the author of fifteen books, and the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today magazine. In recent years, he published a series of essays criticizing various aspects of Google's operations and ethics - Google's Dance, published by TIME, Google's Gotcha, published by U.S. News & World Report, Google's Snoops, published by Dissent, and others.

Most recently, he conducted a series of experiments that prompted media coverage worldwide which appear to show that Google can determine the outcome of close elections by biasing search rankings to favor certain candidates. Based on those experiments, Epstein claimed that to protect voters from undue influence, Google's ubiquitous search engine would need to be regulated and monitored, with political candidates guaranteed equal time in search rankings, just as they are guaranteed equal time on radio and television.

Earlier this year, stock analyst Susan William Gates - no relation to Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft - estimated that regulating Google's search engine would reduce the value of Google's stock by 95 percent. "Basically," she said while giggling for some reason, "they'd be fucked."

The driver of the vehicle, Eric Schmidt Jr. - no relation to Google's outspoken executive chairman, Eric Schmidt - remained on the scene and was not arrested or charged. Said Schmidt - uh, junior, that is - "I'm really, really, really sorry. No kidding."

The deputy sheriff on the scene, Lawrence Page - no relation to Google CEO Larry Page - said there was no evidence that Schmidt - uh, junior - had broken any laws. "A video kindly provided to us by a passerby wearing Google Glass," said Page - uh, Lawrence - "shows clearly that Dr. Epstein was looking straight ahead when he crossed the street. That was the problem. If he had looked to his right, he would have seen the Google Street View vehicle coming toward him at high speed, but he never turned his ahead. In other words, the real culprit here was Dr. Epstein's poor peripheral vision. With better peripheral vision, he could easily have avoided being hit simply by running very fast."

Asked to comment on the tragic accident, a Google spokesperson said, "We didn't do it. We believe the accident occurred because of an impartial algorithm. All bad, illegal, or suspicious things having to do with our company are usually attributable to an impartial algorithm."

[Comment by Dr. Epstein, not written from a hospital bed, where he is not on life support: "Every time I publish a satire, a few people turn up who take what I wrote literally. That is as it should be. Satire was invented to make fools of people, after all. In any case, for the record, and for the benefit of people who cannot understand satire (or, no doubt, good jokes), I am quite alive. Please hold off on the eulogies, and please do not boycott Google. You do not want to piss them off."]