blur house google maps
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
September 21, 2020 ·  5 min read

How to blur your house on Google Street View (and why you should)

With Google Street View, users can virtually stroll through the streets of just about every city, town, suburb, and countryside in the world. During a time when there are travel restrictions around the world, this provides an alternative way to “visit” another country.

While many may see Google Street View as useful, or at the very least fascinating, others see it as an invasion of privacy.

Google’s team of street vehicles and photographers have caught some fairly questionable content over the years. While many of these are quite funny, the photos being taken also give rise to a number of concerns. Namely, with the ability to zoom right into someone’s window, how much privacy are we giving up by having photos taken of our homes without our consent?

The Google Street View Controversy

Since its launch in 2007, Google Street View has been somewhat controversial. For the uninitiated, Street View uses roving vehicles to capture a street-level view of cities and towns around the world.

This has caused many, particularly those in WatchDog groups, to raise concerns over privacy. Not only are people’s homes captured in these photos without their consent, but people out on the streets are having their photos show up on the internet. Photos that they did not consent to be taken.

One of these concerned citizens is Kevin Bankston, staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He voiced his apprehension when the project launched more than a decade ago.

“There is a serious tension here, between the concepts of free speech, and open information, and the idea of privacy,” he said. “There’s definitely a privacy concern that an unmarked Google camera van can, and in fact has, captured images of people, whether in the street or in their homes, in a manner that could be embarrassing or even dangerous to them.” [1]

Illegal? No. Liability? Yes.

He added that what Google has done is not necessarily illegal, but it does create potential liability for the tech giant. 

“It’s more that they’ve done something that’s really irresponsible and rude to people.” [1]

Since its inception, individuals and groups have spoken out over privacy concerns.

In 2008, a small Minnesota community called North Oaks asked Google to take down the photos it had snapped of the town. The City Council made the request on the grounds that the company was trespassing. Google, for its part, obliged [2].

A year later, the lobby group Privacy International (PI) in the UK filed a formal complaint against Google Street View. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) had given permission for Street View to launch on the grounds that Google would blur out faces and licence plates to protect citizens’ privacy.

Once it was launched, however, many people sent in complaints to PI that images of them were identifiable.

One of these complaints came from a woman who had moved in order to escape a violent partner. She was concerned that the image of her outside her new home on street view was recognizable.

The ICO responded saying that individuals who believe they are identifiable on the service and are unhappy should contact Google directly.

“Individuals who have raised concerns with Google about their image being included – and who do not think they have received a satisfactory response – can complain to the ICO,” the organization added [3].

The privacy invasion, unfortunately, did not stop there. 

Wifi Data Collection

In 2010, Google admitted that its Street View vehicles had been secretly collecting data from unencrypted wifi networks as they drove past people’s homes. Among the data collected were traces of medical records and web-browsing history [4].

Google claimed it was a mistake:

“In 2006 an engineer working on an experimental WiFi project wrote a piece of code that sampled all categories of publicly broadcast WiFi data. A year later, when our mobile team started a project to collect basic WiFi network data like SSID information and MAC addresses using Google’s Street View cars, they included that code in their software—although the project leaders did not want, and had no intention of using, payload data,” the company said in a statement [5].

Well over a year later, it became apparent that the company had not yet deleted all of the data as it said it would. This prompted the ICO to launch a formal investigation:

“The ICO is clear that this information should never have been collected in the first place and the company’s failure to secure its deletion as promised is cause for concern.” [4]

At the time, Google failed to say when the company realized it had not deleted all of the data.

How to Blur Your House on Google Street View

While unwarranted data collection is somewhat out of your control, you can choose to have your home blurred in Google Street View. If you are concerned for your privacy for any reason, follow these steps:

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
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” [6]

Once you’ve gone through this process, you’ll receive an email from Google telling you that the company is reviewing the image and will email you when your request is resolved. 

It is important that you are very specific about what precisely you want to be blurred. If you do not give adequate details the company asks you to be more specific. In this case, you will have to repeat the entire process. The company also notes that once you’ve gone through with this, it is permanent. For this reason, make sure it is what you want before submitting a request.

Once you’ve done that, you can also follow a similar process to have your home blurred on Bing Maps as well.

Stick To Your Prinicples

Always remember that you have a right to privacy, even if it’s purely on principle. If you ever feel that your privacy is being compromised, you have the right to speak out about it.

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