Privacy Please is an ongoing series exploring the ways privacy is violated in the modern world, and what can be done about it.
Google Street View offers up a window to the world in all its bizarre, intimate, and often raw glory. That window just so happens to peek into your home, as well. What that peek reveals may be more than you’ve bargained for — think views into bedroom windows, potential fodder for stalkers, and more.
Thankfully, there is something you can do about it. Specifically, you can ask Google to permanently blur your house out — leaving only a smeared suggestion of a building in its place. The entire process is surprisingly easy.
As the name would suggest, Street View, launched in 2007, provides a street-level view of many cities and towns around the world. Captured by roving vehicles and individual photographers equipped with camera-laden backpacks, the service has been controversial from the start — both in the ways you might imagine, and ways you might not.
In 2008, the Minnesota suburb of North Oaks decided it didn’t want pictures of it up on Google’s service, and threatened to cite Google for trespassing. Google pulled the images down.
In 2009, the lobbying organization Privacy International filed a formal complaint to the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) alleging that Google failed to properly de-identify the people it captured. As a BBC report at the time noted, that type of failure could have serious repercussions.
“Among them were a woman who had moved house to escape a violent partner but who was recognisable outside her new home on Street View,” read the article, describing complaints made to Privacy International. “Also complaining were two colleagues pictured in an apparently compromising position who suffered embarrassment when the image was circulated at their workplace.”
Staying cool in Brooklyn.
Credit: Screenshot / street view
And that’s just the obvious stuff.
Google has never exactly been a steward of anyones’ privacy. In 2010, the company admitted that its Street View vehicles — the ones endlessly circling neighborhoods around the world — had secretly been collecting information from unencrypted WiFi networks they drove past for years.
So maybe you’re worried about an online stalker, maybe you don’t want strangers peering in your windows, or maybe you value privacy for its own sake and simply don’t think Google should have indexed and digitized photos of your home available for all to see. Whatever the reason, it’s relatively easy to request Google blur out the image of your home or apartment on Google Street View.
Here’s what you do:
1. Go to Google Maps and enter your home address
2. Enter into Street View mode by dragging the small yellow human-shaped icon, found in the bottom-right corner of the screen, onto the map in front of your house
3. With your house in view, click “Report a problem” in the bottom-right corner of the screen
4. Center the red box on your home, and select “My home” in the “Request blurring” field
Google’s San Francisco office.
Credit: screenshot / google
5. Write in the provided field why you want the image blurred (for example, you may be concerned about safety issues)
6. Enter in your email address, and click “Submit”
Importantly, be sure it’s what you want. Google warns you that once it has blurred your house on Street View “it is permanent.”
Don’t forget, though, you live in the place. If you ever need to be reminded of what it looks like, presumably you can go outside and see for yourself.
After you hit “submit,” you should receive an email from Google noting that it’s “reviewing the image you reported and will email you when your request is resolved.” The company may follow up, via email, and ask you to be more specific about the area you want blurred. If so, you will need to do the entire process again — clearly detailing the specific area of the picture you want blurred.
It’s not clear exactly how long Google takes to process the requests, so you might as well get started now. And, when you’re done with that, do the same thing on Bing Maps (the process is surprisingly similar) — it’s not like Microsoft should get any special treatment, after all.