As Google Agrees To Delete Unblurred Street View Images In Germany, One Is Used To Solve A Crime

from the well-how-about-that dept

Earlier this week, Google agreed to delete unblurred images in its Street View database. If you don’t know, Google Street View involves cars driving around photographing everything, so they can be placed on Google Maps. It’s quite useful. However, some folks (and politicians) have been up in arms about the supposed privacy violation of photographing people walking in public (no, I don’t get it, either). To deal with this, Google has been blurring faces of people. However, it usually keeps the unblurred versions in a database for future use (and for better training of its blurring mechanism).

However, just as the company agreed to delete the unblurred photos in its German database, over in the UK, such photos may be useful in helping to solve a mugging. The victim of the mugging (amazingly) noticed that one of the Street View photos was taken right before the mugging happened. It involved two guys who stole his bike, and the photo shows the two guys walking right behind the kid. He alerted the police, who got the unblurred image from Google and were able to track down the accused muggers. Of course, it’s not clear if they’ll actually be convicted or if there’s really enough evidence. In the meantime, though, if you’re thinking of mugging someone, maybe take a look around to see if there’s a Google car driving along side you first.

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Comments on “As Google Agrees To Delete Unblurred Street View Images In Germany, One Is Used To Solve A Crime”

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CmdrOberon says:


I don’t understand how you believe that Google’s
Street View IS NOT an invasion of privacy, but
you DO believe that it’s “far overreaching” ( for prosecutors to go on a fishing expedition to get information about anonymous posts to a public forum.

They are the same thing. Both are public, and both
can be searched far into the future and both can be

In the future, please try to come up with one position
on a topic; it’s not fair to argue both sides of the same coin.

Anon says:

Re: Two Sides?

Well, there seems to be a difference in the expectation of privacy in each case, which is an important concept in law.

When I’m walking on a street, I have VERY little expectation of privacy, but posting anonymously on an internet forum, my expectation is a bit higher. I think there is a lot less hypocrisy than you see in Mike’s position.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Don’t be silly. People walking around in public are not doing so under the assumption that they are totally anonymous. People posting an ANONYMOUS COMMENT are very much doing so under that assumption — because a service provider has told them the comment is anonymous. The police asking for identities are then asking that service provider to betray their customers’ trust. How can you possibly think these are the same?

Mike's Email Responder 2000 (user link) says:

Re: Re:

No, they are not “both sides of the same coin”, and they are not “both public”.

Google street view takes photos from public property which is entirely legal, as any citizen can walk or drive around, take pictures, and post them on the internet.

The fishing expedition to get information about the people who posted comments on a public forum involves trying to forcibly use the government’s power to obtain information that the commenter never made or had any intention of making public, nor would it be possible for the public to discover for themselves.

So no, Mike is not changing his position. He is simply stating that what is shown publicly (people on the streets) can be legally show publicly anywhere else, and what is made private (the commenter’s personal info), should remain private until there is a legal warrant to obtain the information.

Osno says:

Dangerous precedent, Mike, saying that having a lot of cameras running around the city may solve muggings. Even though Google is not doing anything to compromise the privacy of people (IMHO), it’s just a step from that to saying that having cameras all the time filming everything may solve more muggings that a random Google car in the street.

Mike P (profile) says:

Google, Crime Solvers

While I absolutely agree with you, Mike, on your stance concerning Google Street View and that it can be quite useful for certain things, catching criminals in action probably isn’t one of those things. That’s a once in a decade happenstance and thus wouldn’t be fair to be used as an argument for being pro Street View. Other than the fact it shows that sometimes image records come in handy as a historical reference, there’s really nothing more than an eye-catching coincidence here.

justjoe says:

I recall the time when I was living in New Orleans. I’d moved a few months previously from a small town about 1,000 miles away. This is back before jet airplanes and super-highways made travel that far a less common thing. I was sitting in a restaurant and an attractive married couple walked in, hand in hand. I knew them. They lived in the same town I’d come from. Yes, they were married, but not to each other. They had come all this way for a tryst.

Lesson learned? Anything you do in public may be seem by others. That’s the whole point of the legal concept of reasonable expectation of privacy.

Oh, what did I do when that couple walked in? I turned my face away. The place was large. They were seated in a far away corner. Then, the woman I was with and I got out the door as quickly and discretely as we could. We too were not with our proper spouses.

Jon B. says:

It’s public and not an “invasion of privacy”, but it’s no different than saying cameras on every corner are ok because they can be used to fight crime. It just so happens that in this case, Google owns the cameras. Cameras on every public corner are not an “invasion of privacy” but it’s still unnerving to think about.

Yeah, I know, it’s not like Google is constantly running video, but still.

Ryan says:

Mikes right

I have to agree with mike, this isn’t an invasion of privacy at all. I still think faces should be blurred because of witness protection programs and the likes, but if they are already doing that, then thats fine. Really, who cares if someone can see your car and your house.

Next a criminal will get the blame off of him by claiming he used google to plan a robbery.

WiFi War Driver Coward says:

List, and Notify the ones who got looked at

Having just watched a TV program called “CCTV Cities” it would seem that UK residents have accepted that their public places can be under constant, real time surveillance. A once in 5 years updated freeze frame on Google Maps pails into insignificance.

If you really believe crooks will stalk and plot against you anonymously from a few street pic from two summers ago, you should have the right to know the frequency and IP addresses from which your home was viewed. These would be a matter of record on Google’s servers. Hey google, get people to register for the service.

Google Streetview Crime Fighter!!! says:

I personally don’t see any issue with googles pics. It’s a one time snap shot of the street. I have much more of an issue having cameras on every street corner because your constantly being monitored/recorded in real time.

I do think it’s funny cruising down the google streets of Newark, NJ and seeing all the drug dealers sitting on the stoops. The one shot even had a white kid walking up to the dealer with a cab waiting on the corner–good stuff.

In any case, I’m going to petition the government to set up a Google Street View Task Force. We need a team of specially trained commando units to patrol every single cyber street on google maps looking for crimes in progress and public nudity. Then they can compile a DVD called “Google Maps Gone Wild!” and give all the proceeds to the bankers and auto companies. Awesome!

Alex says:

I know it’s not entirely related, but many people have mentioned it in relation to this post on privacy, so I have to ask. If someone posts to a forum anonymously and a group (e.g. a government) tries to get their information from the site, why store that information in the first place? If you really wanted to protect your user’s privacy surely you would just not store ANY identifying information such as IP address or name if given? Then you can’t be accused of not complying with requests as you don’t have the information to provide in the first place.

JackSombra (profile) says:

That streetview solved one crime is...

Not really a good argument, unless you also agree with CCTV being everywhere because that is pretty much the same argument they use

Personally streetview does not bother me in the slightest because I know what it is, just vans going around public areas taking pics of locations, snap shots of just that moment in time.

No real concerns of invasion of privacy for me in that and actually for historical reasons it might be very interesting, could you imagine being able to go though historical records of street view 10 years from now and being able to see things like how your street/town has changed?

On the other hand, all the CCTV camera’s constantly running, with no idea who is behind them or what they are being used for beyond the fact they are meant to be there to monitor/police us……

Anonymous Blogger (user link) says:


I don’t get it. How is taking a photo in public violating peoples privacy? You have no privacy when you’re out in public.

How is this any different than a tourist taking photos in public of monuments and peoples faces in them, then putting the photos on Flickr? What’s the difference?

I’m tired of everyone trying to be politically correct. Street View is the equivalent of a tourist taking photos on the street.

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