Google Street View waits for no man

March 3, 2010
By

Guelph Mercury, 03/03/10PD*27966494

It’s a real shame you can’t pick the clothes you wear when you get immortalized.

If you could, I might have chosen something a little more impressive than, say, a ratty yellow T-shirt two sizes two small and an old pair of dirty shorts. And I wouldn’t have been standing around on the sidewalk, barefoot, pulling at the hair on my head like some confused vagabond.

But Google Street View waits for no man to get properly dressed.

I discovered that last month, when other Guelphites giddily went scouring over the latest uploads from Google’s 360-degree mapping system. Nearly nine months after that nosy car went around photographing our fair city, the Internet behemoth finally released the images.

I wish they hadn’t. Because there I was, captured for eternity—pulling at my hair like a lunatic on the sidewalk outside my apartment, unaware that Google’s prying eyes had caught me on camera.

It had been a bad day. It was a warm May morning, and I had discovered the hard way that my apartment door locks automatically—with me on the wrong side of the door. Google’s car happened by just as I was reaching my most desperate moment, standing on the sidewalk barefoot, yelling at my apartment, looking like I was caught in a bad domestic dispute.

How did this happen? The Street View function was added to Google Maps in 2007. Since then, Street View camera cars, which offer panoramic, ground-level photographs of streets and highways, have visited cities and towns in 18 countries across North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America. They’ve now mapped some 130 Canadian cities, including ours.

A lot of people have expended a lot of energy trying to get onto Google Street View. For some, it’s a badge of honour. They’ve plotted and planned, waiting for the exact moment the Street View car passes by. But forget those now-famous Norwegians who, in wetsuits and with pitchforks, chased the Google car in their scuba gear, and became Internet viral phenomenons. I managed to look like an idiot for Google without doing it on purpose. Take that.

Not everyone is laughing about Google’s cameras, though. Just ask Windsor, where the Google car captured an image the city would rather not promote—a murder scene. After complaints, Street View removed the images that showed the parking lot of a strip joint with yellow police tape and a pool of blood.

According to Google, images that invade people’s privacy can be blurred, though only a few complaints in Canada have generated those kind of edits, the company said.

Google says it’s aware of the public’s concerns about privacy. Street View’s software automatically blurs the faces of any person captured on camera, along with all vehicle licence plates. My face was blurred—but I still look like a dork.

At least I’m not alone. Google’s prying eye has caught plenty of unaware people in compromising positions. The dudes walking out of a strip club. The guys scaling a fence, trying to break into a home. The girls sunbathing topless in a park.

But in a way, that’s the beauty of Google Street View. It’s unpolished, un-Photoshopped images of your town. It’s not the kind of stuff that makes it in the brochures. Streets with hookers on the corners, crimes in commission, people driving dangerously and exposing themselves on sidewalks. That, or barefoot guys locked outside of their houses.

They may likely never make statues in my likeness. OK, they will never make statues in my likeness. But thanks to Google, at least, I will live on.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based freelance writer. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com, and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca

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