Faces of Google Street View

This error was revealed and written up by Fred Beneson and first published on his blog.

Google Streetview Blurred Face Example

After receiving criticism for the privacy-violating “feature” of Google Street View that enabled anyone to easily identify people who happened to be on the street as Google’s car drove by, the search giant started blurring faces.

What is interesting, and what Mako would consider a “Revealing Error”, is when the auto-blur algorithm can not distinguish between an advertisement’s face and a regular human’s face. For the ad, the model has been compensated to have his likeness (and privacy) commercially exploited for the brand being advertised. On the other hand, there is a legal grey-area as to whether Google can do the same for random people on the street, and rather than face more privacy criticism, Google chooses to blur their identities to avoid raising the issue of whether it is their right to do so, at least in America.

So who cares that the advertisement has been modified? The advertiser, probably. If a 2002 case was any indication, advertisers do not like it when their carefully placed and expensive Manhattan advertisements get digitally altered. While the advertisers lost a case against Sony for changing (and charging for) advertisements in the background of Spiderman scenes located in Times Square, its clear that they were expecting their ads to actually show up in whatever work happened to be created in that space. There are interesting copyright implications here, too, as it demonstrates an implicit desire by big media for work like advertising to be reappropriated and recontextualized because it serves the point of getting a name “out there.”

To put my undergraduate philosophy degree to use, I believe these cases bring up deep ethical and ontological questions about the right to control and exhibit realities (Google Street View being one reality, Spiderman’s Time Square being another) as they obtain to the real reality. Is it just the difference between a fiction and a non-fiction reality? I don’t think so, as no one uses Google maps expecting to retrieve information that is fictional. Regardless, expect these kinds of issues to come up more and more frequently as Google increases its resolution and virtual worlds merge closer to real worlds.

31 thoughts on “Faces of Google Street View”

  1. That’s just plain silly.  There’s no expectation of privacy if you’re on a PUBLIC street.  Now, they are going to have to figure out how to keep the advertisers happy and all that, just because someone walking down the street “might be identified”?  Please.

  2. That’s just plain silly.  There’s no expectation of privacy if you’re on a PUBLIC street.  Now, they are going to have to figure out how to keep the advertisers happy and all that, just because someone walking down the street “might be identified”?  Please.

  3. That is ridiculous.
    What are these ad agencies thinking..not like the ads are really digitally modified?!
    But great post.

  4. Remains to be seen whether the google car captures some temporary art installation and the owner sues for copyright enfringement for digital reproduction of his/her artwork….

    If you were to consider google maps as digital art work then Plato’s and Aristotle’s opposing views of whether art has to mirror reality or not almost seem fitting to consider in this scenario.

  5. I think everyone should chill out. It wasn’t a big error, and if google are blurring faces, then I think that is okay.

  6. On the other hand, there is a legal grey-area as to whether Google can do the same for random people on the street, and rather than face more privacy criticism, Google chooses to blur their identities to avoid raising the issue of whether it is their right to do so, at least in America.

  7. If you are considering as google maps digital artwork then Plato and Aristotle opposite viewpoints on whether the art has to reflect reality or almost does not seem appropriate to consider in this scenario.

  8. For me i think it’s a minor error. I don’t really see any implications. I mean what about google images?

  9. I think if you are in a public place then you must expect that someone can photograph you, and you can’t really complain about it.

  10. This is so random. What are the odds of someone actually walking down the street at that moment?

    Also, the odds of them or someone who knows them ever finding out?

    Probably almost zero.

  11. It just goes to show how hard image recognition is, and how easy it is to fool biometric tests with a little lateral thinking.

  12. “I think google will improve on the algorithm soon” Maybe they will but its not going to be easy.

    -Tim

  13. I wouldn’t have a problem with my face not being blurred in a public picture. I can imagine that the copyright lawyer’s are going to have a field day with this one.

  14. How much of an issue is this really. If you’re not doing something you shouldn’t be doing, then you’ve really nothing to worry about.

    Does anyone disagree?

    I don’t see how this is that different to CCTV footage.

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