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And there I was, opening my front door, as I typically do when I get home, but on that particular day my image was captured by one of Google’s black vans and added to the company's Street View feature, which connects street-level photos to Google Maps locations. And while I wasn’t getting a ticket or climbing over a gate, it was a bit odd to see myself there in front of my home. I don’t have any interest in having the image taken down (it’s actually hard to identify me since I was photographed from the back), but other people have voiced concerns about their images appearing on Street View.
Oakland resident Mary Kalin-Casey noted that the Street View image of her home shows her cat, Monty, sitting in front of the living room window; she posted to Boing Boing stating she would be looking into how she could have the image removed. The response on Boing Boing was quite negative, with many people stating that she should not have an expectation of privacy if her blinds are open. In an interview with the New York Times she further explained her point, stating, “The issue that I have ultimately is about where you draw the line between taking public photos and zooming in on people’s lives.... The next step might be seeing books on my shelf. If the government was doing this, people would be outraged.”
And Kalin-Casey’s point is worth considering. If you saw someone standing in front of your house snapping pictures through your living room, would you confront him? Do we now need to operate under the assumption that anything we do could possibly be recorded unless we’re in our homes with the blinds drawn?
Google does have a process that allows individuals to request that “objectionable” images be taken down. Kate Hurowitz, a spokesperson for Google, explained that “objectionable imagery includes nudity, certain types of locations (for example, domestic violence shelters) and clearly identifiable individuals, if those individuals request takedown. We routinely review takedown requests and act quickly to remove objectionable imagery.” She went on to explain that requests to remove images are reviewed promptly and in a few rare cases the company has preemptively removed Street View images.
While that may be the case, once an image is up, it’s quickly disseminated to a variety of sites, and even when images are taken down, they are often still viewable by simply scrolling back a block on the map and then zooming in on deleted content. One image on Geary Street in San Francisco that showed police activity was soon blacked out but is still viewable by moving down the street and zooming in. While Hurowitz would not say who requested that the Geary Street image be removed, she did state that “we haven't received any requests for removal from law enforcement.”
A collection of unusual Street View images is available on Wired's Threat Level blog