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Google Begins Blurring Faces In Street View 170

Posted by kdawson
from the middle-ground-in-range-of-both-sides'-fire dept.
mytrip notes a News.com article reporting that Google has begun blurring faces in its Street View service, which has spawned privacy concerns since its introduction last year. Google has been working for a couple of years to advance the state of the art of face recognition. Quoting News.com: 'The technology uses a computer algorithm to scour Google's image database for faces, then blurs them, said John Hanke, director of Google Earth and Google Maps, in an interview at the Where 2.0 conference...' Google wrote about the program in their Lat/Long blog."
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Google Begins Blurring Faces In Street View

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  • Anonymity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Descalzo (898339) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @04:59PM (#23395830) Journal
    This is the nice thing about living in a town no one cares about/knows about.
  • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @05:00PM (#23395836)
    It's been awhile since a Google post on Slashdot has focused on the company improving our privacy. Good work!
    • Well, I don't know... the one about blanking out maps of China sure seems to improve privacy.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by wattrlz (1162603)
        They let Chinese people read /. ? (just a joke in case anyone is itching to use some mod points.)
      • Re:Kudos to Google! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by nbert (785663) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @05:21PM (#23396108) Homepage Journal
        Ignoring the sarcasm: There's a big difference between a country requesting to blur out parts and individuals not wanting to appear in certain areas. It's a good thing that they blur out faces and I was quite surprised that they didn't consider it before Street View launched.

        IMO governments have to be as transparent as possible for a good reason. It's a different story if you as a "normal" person walk by a brothel or sit in a park (half-) naked. It all depends on the time the google truck passes and I don't see a reason why we have a right to see these people the moment they were photographed...
        • by TubeSteak (669689) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @07:11PM (#23397344) Journal

          IMO governments have to be as transparent as possible for a good reason. It's a different story if you as a "normal" person walk by a brothel or sit in a park (half-) naked. It all depends on the time the google truck passes and I don't see a reason why we have a right to see these people the moment they were photographed...
          The government should be as transparent as possible because it is of and for the public.
          Walking by a brothel or sitting in a park (half-)naked also happens to be in public.

          Why wouldn't "we have a right to see these people the moment they were photographed..." in public?
          • by nbert (785663)

            Walking by a brothel or sitting in a park (half-)naked also happens to be in public.

            Happens to be in public, but not "for the public". Makes a big difference if public means 'the people around you' or '1.23 billion people connected to the same network'.
            • by Woundweavr (37873)

              Happens to be in public, but not "for the public". Makes a big difference if public means 'the people around you' or '1.23 billion people connected to the same network'.

              Why? You have a right to privacy in your own home, and in certain other circumstances. If you concede that acting in public surrenders your privacy pertaining to that particular time and action, I don't see how the number of people who see you changes that.

              If I'm not paying attention and I scratch my crotch in front of 10 people I didn't s

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by AxemRed (755470)
          It all depends on the time the google truck passes and I don't see a reason why we have a right to see these people the moment they were photographed...

          You're looking at it backwards. There doesn't need to be a reason for us to have the right to do or see something. But there does have to be a good reason to take a right away.
          • by nbert (785663)
            I don't want to look at it from a certain angle. I'm just trying to explain the difference between things which happen in public and things which can be covered because they happened in public and there is a justified public interest to make them available. Unfortunately it doesn't work any more to refer to a universal right we have as long as we don't give it away intentionally.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by flink (18449)

        Well, I don't know... the one about blanking out maps of China sure seems to improve privacy.
        Yeah, and try finding your way around Israel [google.com] using gmaps as well.
      • by houghi (78078)
        Try Argentina [google.com] and see what has been done there
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I'm curious why they don't just blur the entire picture.

      I only use street-view to figure out what building to look for, or what a particular intersection looks like... I don't need extreme detail for that.

      Does anyone really need high-res (able to identify people and license plates) pics in streetview?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @05:01PM (#23395846)
    jngpu gurz hfr fbzr erirefvoyr zrgubq yvxr ebg13, gubfr abbof
  • by muellerr1 (868578) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @05:03PM (#23395882) Homepage
    It would be cool if there were an option on sites like Facebook or Flickr to blur the faces on my photos for anyone but my friends.

    With technology like this, I wonder how far away Google Image Search is from being able to search image content?
    • by pbhj (607776)
      They could get recaptcha to use their images maybe?

      I've not really used StreetView as it doesn't do the UK yet AFAIK. However I noticed that I can view peoples car plates and the occupants enough to recognise them ... has there been any fallout from this yet, StreetView divorces, prosecutions (eg for soliciting) and the like?
    • Content-based image retrieval was something that received a lot of attention in academia around 5 years ago. Everyone working in computer vision or image processing seemed to have a CBIR system... and yet, for some reason, none of these systems made it into the mainstream. The accuracy wasn't bad, either. Maybe it just takes someone with Google's clout to do it - but if they do eventually do it, they would not be the first to come up with the techniques.
  • by SkyMunky (249995) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @05:13PM (#23396006)
    Print a giant face over your storefront/building just to see what happens.
  • by DaveM753 (844913) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @05:14PM (#23396026) Homepage
    Damn...there goes my 15 minutes of fame.

  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @05:17PM (#23396060)
    Google has begun blurring faces in its Street View service, which has spawned privacy concerns since its introduction last year.

    My understanding is that people in public should have no expectations of privacy. Or is that just a U.S. thing? Furthermore, as their algorithms get better, will Google skip blurring the faces of famous people? They certainly have no expectations of privacy in public.

    • by Moridineas (213502) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @05:19PM (#23396078) Journal

      My understanding is that people in public should have no expectations of privacy. Or is that just a U.S. thing?
      Actually, in the rest of the more civilized world, you're not allowed to look at people without their permission. Just one more way in which the US is lagging behind!
    • by thomasdz (178114) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @05:32PM (#23396250)

      My understanding is that people in public should have no expectations of privacy.


      That's an overly simplified view. Are you saying that in public it should be legal to be able to take pictures of anybody from any angle/viewpoint? (eg: upskirt)
      Can I take my parabolic microphone and start recording people's conversations 100 meters away and then post the conversations on the Internet?
      Why can't people walk around with no clothes on in public if they aren't doing anything weird or being "sexual" (whatever that means)?
      If there are no expectations of privacy, then what's the problem? (sarcasm)

      I would modify your "no expectations of privacy in public" to "reduced expectations of privacy in public"

      • by AxemRed (755470) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @06:07PM (#23396676)
        You're getting away from the point though. Google isn't taking up-skirt pictures. They aren't using a telephoto lens. They aren't recording private conversations. And no one is walking around naked! Google is taking pictures from a normal vantage point.

        Are we going to start going after the newspapers and TV stations too? After all, they take plenty of videos and pictures of places where people and standing around in the background and may not realize that they're being photographed or taped.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by AxemRed (755470)
          ...and to bring up another point, I just took a vacation to New Orleans. I took several pictures of my friends in Jackson Square, and there were plenty of random people standing around in the background. Did I somehow violate their privacy by posting my vacation pictures on Flickr?
          • by Builder (103701)
            No, but you would have violated their rights had you used those images for commercial purposes, which is exactly what google is doing.

            Google streetview is part of the business offering of a publicly traded company. As such, any images used must be considered as being commercial in nature and images of this type generally require a model release from any people that are identifiable in the image.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by JanneM (7445)
          He's completely on point. The parent poster asked if we should have any expectations of privacy while in public. He shows that yes, we do have some expectations on privacy; the discussion is thus about what those expectations should be. You can't, for instance, take a picture of somebody, then use it for commercial purposes without their explicit permission (look up "release form"), and Google is probably dangerously close to be over that line already.

          A newspaper and a television station has very free rein
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by pclminion (145572)

            He's completely on point. The parent poster asked if we should have any expectations of privacy while in public. He shows that yes, we do have some expectations on privacy; the discussion is thus about what those expectations should be.

            It doesn't need to be discussed. It's quite clear cut. You have an expectation that people won't photograph up your skirt, because there is a law saying you can't do that. You have an expectation that people won't listen in on your conversations with a mic, because there'

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by BasharTeg (71923)
          Google is taking pictures from a normal vantage point.

          Yeah, a normal vantage point if you're standing on top of a van looking into everyone's backyard.
        • by dkf (304284)

          And no one is walking around naked!
          That's the problem right there! A severe shortage of people walking around naked (preferably attractive, and of a gender preferred by the viewer).

          Mind you, if there were enough of such folks, perhaps we wouldn't be so worried about blurring faces...
      • by Fozzyuw (950608) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @06:08PM (#23396688)

        That's an overly simplified view. Are you saying that in public it should be legal to be able to take pictures of anybody from any angle/viewpoint? (eg: upskirt)

        Interesting that you should say that [bbc.co.uk]... as this was a recent BBC article I read. And it's not even "upskirt", it's just taking pictures of peoples behinds. Of course, the best part is the last sentence...

        He might have some explaining to do when he finally gets home.
      • It depends on which cases you would have a reasonable expectation of privacy with.
        You have reasonable expectation of privacy if you cover it up, or if you are talking quietly. Standing in public outside for anyone to photograph is no reasonable expectation.
        Walking around naked has nothing to do with privacy, instead some places have "indecent exposure" laws. Those places that don't will use private property (e.g. a mall can ask you to leave if they don't like what you are wearing) or public nuisance (streak
      • by Kjella (173770)

        Why can't people walk around with no clothes on in public if they aren't doing anything weird or being "sexual" (whatever that means)?

        How you came to connect showing their privates with privacy I don't quite get. Those exposing themselves do it willingly, so it's not a matter of privacy (whether you're allowed to keep something private) but rather what others should be required to be exposed to. I think people should have the freedom to life their own lives as they please, but there's a limit to how much you can impose it on others. I'm a bit divided on this because the public is what connects all other places together, and you shouldn't

      • "Up your skirt" (or in any other way under your clothes) is not public, it doesn't matter if you are in a bedroom, or in the town square, it is assuredly private and one reasonably has an expectation of privacy in that regard.

        Your recording situation, IANAL but I'd say it's no different than telephoto, provided the subjects are in public. It is, granted, a little grey though if the conversation is specifically being held in a manner which conveys privacy (hushed voices, participants obviously not wanting t
      • Clay Shirky talks about this alot in his new book "Here Comes Everybody." He calls it the Privacy of the Mall, noting that even in an eminently public place like the mall we still have a social expectation of contextual privacy.

        He's right. Your example of the parabolic mic is accurate. Here's another:

        Let's say I'm walking out to get the morning paper in my pajamas. Once I step outside my house I'm unquestionably "in public."

        But what public is it? I'm in public to my neighbors, whom I may know and be friends
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          Exactly. Regardless of whether one agrees with your particular hypothetical example, there are at least five qualitative differences between what is observed by a casual passer-by going about their business in a public place and the intentional, systematic collection(1) of a permanent(2), searchable(3) database of pictures that will be made available to the public(4) by a commercial entity(5).

          Natural expectations have, at least until recently, been that public behaviour is subject to the first kind of scr

    • by MP3Chuck (652277)
      Just because you shouldn't have any *expectations* of privacy in public doesn't mean you shouldn't *deserve* any should someone choose to provide it to you.
    • by joe_bruin (266648) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @07:10PM (#23397336) Homepage Journal
      The expectation for most of us is that there is no random, permanent, publicly displayed record of where we go and what we do, regardless of whether we do it in public or not. That is, in public we don't have privacy, but we generally have anonymity, and street view busts this. Yes, it's entirely possible that someone will take a picture of you and it will end up on the news or the internet. But for people doing something that is generally not newsworthy but they may want to keep private, there is an expectation that this will not happen. This is the same reasoning that makes people opposed to RFID tracking. Yes, someone can follow you around in their car and make notes of what you do, but that is different from a systematic logging of where you are which could happen at any time and any place.

      What if a Google camera catches you: ...buying drugs? ...walking into your ex girlfriend's house? ...entering an abortion clinic? ...picking your nose? ...hanging out in front of a gay bar? ...attending a communist party meeting? ...golfing on Sunday? ...doing something you don't want your friends and neighbors finding out about?

      Most of these things may not mean anything to you, but they may mean a lot to some people. Now, if Google announced "we will be taking pictures of this street at 4pm on Monday, don't be there if you don't want your picture taken", that would be a perfectly reasonable solution to this whole thing.
    • by croddy (659025) * on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @07:36PM (#23397568)

      It is a gross oversimplification to say that once in public, one should have no expectation of privacy.

      People have to go into public to do normal things. This does not mean that any level whatsoever of data gathering on your public activities is acceptable. Certainly would you see the privacy implications if Google were to attach a GPS unit to your car and record where you drive -- sure, you're driving in public, but that does not mean it would be okay for Google to record detailed records of your trips. Likewise it would be inappropriate for Google to follow you with a video camera. Perhaps you don't, but a lot of folks feel that intermittent still images taken by Google's drive-by surveillance crews are also too invasive.

      The advancement of photographic and image processing technology has introduced privacy concerns that existing laws could not foresee. The ease with which massive amounts of personally invasive information can be gathered, analyzed, and then distributed in bulk has changed the way we should think about privacy -- even privacy in public.

      • It is a gross oversimplification to say that once in public, one should have no expectation of privacy.

        Tell that to the various cities with CCTVs positioned everywhere.

        Certainly would you see the privacy implications if Google were to attach a GPS unit to your car and record where you drive -- sure, you're driving in public, but that does not mean it would be okay for Google to record detailed records of your trips.

        I'll give you points for squeaking in an automotive analogy, but it's flawed. They ca

    • The issue is that Google is publishing identifiable pictures of people without having secured a model release from the people in the picture. Really dumb on Google's part - I wouldn't be surprised if they get still hit with a bunch of lawsuits - what they are doing now is to head off having even more lawsuits filed against them.
  • Awwww (Score:5, Funny)

    by DeadPanDan (1165901) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @05:23PM (#23396134)
    They should have used Laughing Man logos. You blew it Google.
  • by Digestromath (1190577) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @05:26PM (#23396158)
    Could these enhanced algorithms be used to blur the faces of the hideous women I bring home from the bar? If not in real time, I'll accept them being blurred in my memory.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by thereofone (1287878)
      Try improving your Alcohol algorithm, I hear the Tequila sets work very well but you might have to apply Lime and Salt.
      • by steveo777 (183629)
        A buddy of mine is 26 years old and had his first shot of tequila last night. It was Sauza. I had a shot, too, it was disgusting as far as tequila goes (I wasn't drinking to get drunk, so I could taste it. Had a gasoline aftertaste, I'm sticking with Don Julio). Anyway, we supplied him with four lime wedges. Poor bastard didn't know what hit him. It never gets old.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @05:26PM (#23396164)
    Google isn't blurring faces in the photos, but is actually blurring people's faces. Somehow, the Googlebotmobile blurs peoples' faces as it drives by, and so far no one has figured out a way to undo it.
  • Aside from time factor (I suppose it works 24h/day), what's the big legal difference from what the TV programs do when they show random people, in scenes from the cities or so?
  • by dsouza42 (1151071) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @05:42PM (#23396362)
    Looks like Google also cares a about horse privacy [google.com]. That's really great! I woudn't want anyone recognizing my horse if he's caught doing something embarassing out in the street.
  • by EllynGeek (824747) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @05:55PM (#23396532)
    And kids, and vehicles, and visitors...this is such utter crap. "Do no evil" indeed. You can't just say "do no evil", you have to actually do no evil to have any credibility.
    • by BasharTeg (71923)
      This is generally my opinion on the topic too. All of the Google apologists jump in to tell us how we shouldn't expect privacy in public and how Google isn't doing anything illegal.

      The point is, having someone film every inch of the country so they can make a buck on advertising isn't a "good" thing to do. It raises privacy concerns because while I know people can see me in public, I can reasonably expect that people aren't recording me for the simple reason that there isn't any great motivation to record
  • by lhaeh (463179) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @05:57PM (#23396556)
    This article [blogoscoped.com] from a year ago shows that Google has had public implementations of facial recognition for some time. Simply appending &imgtype=face to a Google image search URL will just show images of faces.
  • Why not blank? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nameer (706715) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @06:06PM (#23396664)
    Why blur? Haven't we learned yet that the goal is no information, not less information? O.K., this is probably not one of those cases where someone will go to the trouble of trying to deconvolute the image. But really, just drop a white circle over the face and be done with it. Blurring gains nothing and leaves trace information.
    • Because this looks nicer. Also, the blurring stuff was all done on stuff where there is a finite set of stuff to start with (fonts, spacing, colours) and then working from there. It's much harder to do that with faces. I think.
  • Use their awesome technology to just remove people from streetview entirely? If they removed cars and people it would be a lot easier to view the actual streets (and stuff that should be on a map.).

    < hat tinfoil=yes > Most likely this is just a public beta for their super-secret face recognition technology so they'll be able to track all our movements over the web.< /hat >

  • by aristotle-dude (626586) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @07:35PM (#23397562)
    Why do people expect privacy on a public street? It is called the "public" for a reason. I do not feel that Google should bother censoring anything that occurs in the public eye.
    • by geekoid (135745)
      I see your point,and agree with it mostly.

      Privacy is a matter of degrees. So just because you are in public doesn't mean people should be able to demand your name.

      Take into account the fact that there is a tiny portion of people crazy enough to stumble onto somebody and start looking for them.
      For example you look at a nearby street view and see a interesting person, and then go to that area to see if you can find them.
      You know there are people who will do this.

      Now it's google tool, so they can remove anythi
  • Too bad privacy is the big thing & not color. Then, they could have done something about the horrible red reflections covering all the photos. But, fixing color isn't the big thing.

  • by Serindipidude (939235) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @10:58PM (#23398758)
    Don't waste CPU cycles blurring the image. Just past my face over everyone else's. I don't mind at all! Anyway, people who don't want to be recognised in public should know better that to leave home not wearing a burka.
  • Blurring out human faces is all well and good, but what about all those cats [anders.com]? Won't someone please think of those poor cats who can't even groom themselves or pose with a favored cat toy to make themselves at least presentable? Those poor, POOR KITTIEZ!

  • Excellent! Now I can have complete privacy from Google Street View by simply covering my house with pictures of faces!
  • Why are they blurring faces, but leaving license plates and other identifying information out there for public consumption? I can now see the license plate of the person who cuts me off in traffic every day, search the (cough, ahem) "online database" for their home address and visit them to give them my personal regards.

    Are we sure faces is more important at this point? What about stalkers who can abuse this information? (following employees home) Child molesters? People who see which cars pick up which c

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