Would you agree to pass around a photo of your home to everyone in the world?
Well, Google has been doing something like that these past 15 years with the Google Street View option in its popular mapping tool. But did you know that you can have your house or property obscured?
Google uses vehicles outfitted with cameras to roam public streets. But “a lot of people are concerned with the fact that they weren’t given a choice to do it, that it just automatically appears without any consent,” says cybersecurity expert John Sileo, chief executive of Denver-based high-tech think tank the Sileo Group.
Photos reveal disconcerting details
Among the security concerns: Burglars may be able to better plot how to enter a home. Or scammers might use the photographs to assess their victim’s socioeconomic status or glean personal information.
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“When they can say, ‘Hey, you have a red Subaru with the scratch on the side,’ something they’ve seen in Google Street View, they’ve found something to gain your trust,” Sileo says. He says the only upside of having your home visible on Google Street View is that invited visitors can find your residence more easily when using Google as a GPS navigation system.
How to ask Google to remove items
Here’s how to request that images of your home or car get blurred out:
1. Search for your home address on Google Maps.
2. Click on the image of your home or click on the little orange man at the lower right of the screen and drag him to your house.
3. Click on Report a Problem at the bottom right of the screen.
4. Fill out the form, where you can select what part of the image you would like to blur. Google asks for descriptive information, such as the color and model of your car. Add that you are making this request because of privacy concerns.
Google will need your email address for follow-up questions and to send a confirmation once the action has been taken. Blurring cannot be undone.
It's also important to note that this will not remove the image of your house from other internet mapping programs such as those from Apple or Bing. And other apps and websites — Zillow.com or Realtor.com or your local tax assessor, for example — may have pictures of your home.
Removing the aerial view of your house from Google Earth is more difficult because Google buys the images from other companies. To blur your property, you would have to contact the source of the satellite image, which isn't readily available.
Ben Jose, a public affairs manager with Google, says the service “aims to fulfill imagery blurring requests as quickly as possible, usually in a matter of days.” Google updates its Street View images occasionally — it has a schedule of where its vehicles will be photographing next on its What is Street View? page — but transfers the blur to any updated image.
Lexi Pandell is a contributing writer who covers technology. Her work also appears in other publications, including Wired, The New York Times and The Atlantic.