Google Street View Reaches Brazil and Antarctica

When Google introduced Street View nearly three and a half years ago, hardly anyone imagined that it would attain the reach it has today. On October 1, Street View earned the distinction of reaching all seven continents when the search giant added Brazil and Antarctica. Long-time Street View watchers won’t be surprised to hear that there were a few glitches, however.

Let’s look at Antarctica first. It’s kind of difficult to get one of Google’s Street View vehicles to and through an area with such a harsh climate. Let’s not even talk about the ecological implications! No, what Google did instead, according to its blog, was focus on Half Moon Island; indeed, if you read the blog entry to the end, you’ll note that its author mentions vacationing to Antarctica with plans to take some Street View photos.

For the rest of the continent, Google seems to have relied on user-contributed photos as much as they could. So if you use Street View to examine Antarctica, you’ll see a lot of blue dots that represent these photos. You’ll be able to drop Google’s famous pegman over these dots to view the images.

Search Engine Land raised the amusing specter of penguins filing lawsuits against Google for violating their privacy – which brings us, in a roundabout sense, to Brazil. Google has had privacy issues in the past with Street View, up to and including lawsuits; indeed, they started automatically blurring any faces that show up in the application to help quell such concerns.

Brazil’s Street View situation was a bit more macabre than usual, however. Again, as reported by Search Engine Land, something very unexpected showed up on local streets in Brazil: dead bodies. Images included a partially-covered body next to Avenida Presidente Vargas in Rio de Janeiro, and a covered body near police cars in Belo Horizonte. (That can’t have helped tourism). Shortly after the online media picked up on this story, Google fixed the locations in Street View so that searchers would only find a blank screen instead.

Is this a problem with the system, or is it simply inevitable that such a service will catch things one would rather not see revealed to the entire world? And what kind of privacy is one entitled to expect while in a public place? This is hardly the first time Google Street View has turned up embarrassing or uncomfortable images, and it certainly won’t be the last.

There have also been cases of people “showing off” for the Street View cameras; Google tries to get rid of them when they spot it. Of course, once something is on the Internet, it’s hard to get rid of. Start typing “Google Street View” into Google, and the completing options offered by Google Instant include “bloopers” and “funny.” There’s even a website, StreetViewFun.com, devoted to the unusual things that users have turned up with Google Street View. It’s updated daily with new images; recent images included an arrest and two people mooning Google’s camera. 

But Google Street View isn’t just for fun and games, and not everyone who doesn’t want to be captured on camera is innocent. One of the top 100 images on StreetViewFun has quite a story attached to it; it helped to capture a pair of muggers. The mugging occurred in Groningen, Holland; the 14-year-old victim found the image of the incident on Google Street View, and reported it to the police. The police, in turn, went to Google to get the unblurred image – and one of the officers recognized the muggers.

The controversy surrounding Google Street View and issues of privacy will probably continue. The application itself, however, is so useful that it is unlikely to go away any time soon. From finding your way around in an unfamiliar area to planning your next vacation to simple armchair tourism to yes, helping to foil a crime, Google Street View has proved its versatility. 

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