Google is taking the very unusual step of replacing an image in its extensive Street View photo collection after a grieving father expressed his anguish that the online photo captured the scene of his son's 2009 murder.
The case emerged recently through news reports from KTVU Channel 2 FOX television in Oakland, Calif., which reported on Nov. 17 that Jose Barrera of Richmond, Calif., had asked Google to pull the photograph after he discovered it online earlier in the week. The aerial image, which shows police detectives walking around an area near some railroad tracks, also shows the body of Barrera's 14-year-old son, Kevin, who was shot and killed at the scene on Aug. 15, 2009.
"When I see this image, that's still like that happened yesterday," the elder Barrera told KTVU. "And that brings me back to a lot of memories."
Barrera told the television station that he wanted to have the image removed in honor of his son's memory. The image was captured by a satellite as part of Google's normal imaging projects and coincidentally happened to capture the scene on the day that the boy's body was discovered.
Google has been asked previously by others to remove information that turns up in its search engine, with mixed results. In Spain this past February, Spain's data protection authority argued that Google should be required to remove damaging information about individuals from its search results. A man in Spain had argued that Google searches about him turned up information about an arrest years before that should be cleaned up to protect him. A Spanish court originally upheld the man's argument and ordered Google to remove the information from its search results, but that ruling was challenged in June 2013 when the an official with the European Court of Justice recommended that Google not be forced to expunge all links to the earlier reports.
In the California case, Google announced that it will honor Barrera's request.
"Our hearts go out to the family of this young boy," Brian McClendon, the vice president of Google Maps told eWEEK in a statement. "Since the media first contacted us about the image, we've been looking at different technical solutions. Google has never accelerated the replacement of updated satellite imagery from our maps before, but given the circumstances, we wanted to make an exception in this case. We believe we can update this in eight days, and we've spoken to the family to let them know we're working hard on the update."
The murder of Kevin Barrera is still unsolved, according to a story in The San Francisco Chronicle. "Richmond police spokeswoman Sgt. Nicole Abetkov said homicide detectives who were on scene have confirmed that the image does in fact depict the crime scene that day and the body on the ground is actually Kevin Barrera," the story reported.
Google does blur the faces of people who are captured in other Street View images, as a policy. Vehicle license numbers are also typically blurred when captured in the images.
Google's Street View project now covers 50 nations around the world, providing images taken by Street View vehicles that are driven up and down countless thousands of miles of local streets as part of the company's global mapping efforts. For map lovers, Internet users and others, the project is a great resource for information, fascinating photographs of places away from home and a portal into life in other places.
But the 50-nation milestone being celebrated by Google is not without controversy. In many nations around the world, including the United States and a host of nations in Europe, government officials have been taking Google to task over Street View data collection efforts that the countries say were too invasive and violated some of their privacy laws.
In April 2013, privacy regulators in Germany levied an $189,167 fine against Google to punish the company for not giving notice that it would be collecting user data as well as images using the Street View vehicle fleet after it began in 2007. The Street View program came under scrutiny both in the United States and in Europe after it was learned that Google was gathering the information street by street between 2007 and 2010, according to an earlier eWEEK report.