Blurring and unblurring Street View

Google have sophisticated software that automatically detects and blurs faces and number plates in Street View imagery in order to protect people’s privacy. It is not perfect, however, and we often get emails asking us to blur peoples faces or number plates in Street View. Occasionally people want all images of their house removed. Although we have explained how to do this several times in the past, it is worth reiterating:

  1. Open the location in the Google Maps version of Street View.
  2. Click the ‘Report a problem’ link found at the bottom right of the screen.
  3. A form appears asking you what you want blurred and where it is on the image. Fill in the form and click “Submit”.

Google will take appropriate action and let you know.

Blurred faces

Occasionally we get queries from readers asking whether it is possible to obtain copies of the original unblurred imagery. This is usually a request from relatives of a deceased loved one who appears in the imagery and they would like to have the unblurred imagery as a remembrance. Although it would be nice if Google were able to grant this sort of request, it is not possible. It would not be feasible to create a reliable system to verify the person in the image has granted their permission, whereas simply granting requests without verification would defeat the purpose of blurring the imagery in the first place. In addition, many of the countries in which Google has Street View, have privacy laws that require Google to blur faces and number plates and to destroy the original images within a reasonable amount of time and thus, releasing such images would be illegal.

About Timothy Whitehead

Timothy has been using Google Earth since 2004 when it was still called Keyhole before it was renamed Google Earth in 2005 and has been a huge fan ever since. He is a programmer working for Red Wing Aerobatx and lives in Cape Town, South Africa.






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Comments

  1. Step 3 in fact covers a range of possible issues, and also requires completion of the notorious ‘catcha’ test to”prove you are not a robot”so best of luck with that. Also what is to stop anyone from maliciously blurring imagery, say of rival business premises, or indeed un-bluring imagery of premises hidden by someone else as is for example widespread in Germany? Can Google somehow verify the authenticity of a request from the information on the form or other data collected through contact with them?

    • sal jiminez says:

      Digging like crazy in the internet for a haunted house here in San Jose for like a week, well, I think all that work finally payed off because I finally found the house on google maps blurred out…hmmm, I wonder why?

  2. Once it is blurred, unless the Google vehicles come by again, I know of no way to get it unblurred. That would mean keeping the original copies, which Google is smart not to do. Police in several countries have requested originals because suspects in crimes showed up on Google. As far as I know, those have been denied because the originals were not kept. Most notably two suspects leaving a house that was broken into. One of the kids realized that the photograph posted to StreetView of two people on that street was at the same time as the robbery. I believe that one is still pending as it was only last month. Kind of sucks because a whole bunch of road signs were blurred near where I live and shouldn’t have been. Makes it quite hard to navigate some of the rural areas when road signs, even advertisements, go missing.

    • If it is correct that blurring cannot be removed, it would surely encourage ‘malicious’ requests for blurring, and hence it would make it even more necessary for Google to verify requests. But my guess is that any verification is at best partial, so maybe Google reject most requests and this combined with the relative obscurity of the procedure prevents more interference with Street View.

    • Julie, can you tell us whether the blurring algorithm has been (or will be) improved so that less non-private and useful content remains unblurred? When I first noticed that faces and license plates were being blurred automatically, I noticed also that just about every other kind of alphanumeric content was blurred, including signs on business, street addresses, and street names. In the particular stretch of North Main in Los Angeles that I was looking at, the GSV imagery was degraded to the point of uselessness. But when I looked at it again, a few weeks later, it was much better.

    • Henry Bowman says:

      “Kind of sucks because a whole bunch of road signs were blurred near where I live and shouldn’t have been”

      What’s hilarious is that Google will blur a storefront marquee or street sign, then will later bring up that photo in a captcha collage and ask you to click on images of storefronts or street signs. Is that brown blur a shop awning or a storm damage? Do the Chinese characters on that banner say “Keep right” or “Vote for Chung?” Decisions, decisions.

  3. Sometimes blurring out things has funny results…. There is a Dutch store in Bellflower (now closed but still on street view) that has a Dutch girl and boy painted on the building. Totally cartoon style, wearing the classic Dutch outfits. Their faces got “auto blurred” by Googles software. 😉

  4. Erroneous blurrings are very bad. So the policy “blur everything, unblur nothing” is actually unusable. I hope Google prefers to lie and save the undamaged versions unofficially even if it’s officially removed. I can’t understand why such policy as “never unblur anything” should apply worldwide only because of some weird European countries. Even if Europe doesn’t have any public space (space that you can photograph without violation of pricacy) at all, it isn’t fault of USA or Australia so why would anyone need such policy of Google there?

    Preventing abuses you say? Removing of erroneous blurrings can’t be abuse by definition.

  5. The same way as “privacy is so important that we must destroy entire public space” I could say “the gravity is so important that all opposite physical forces needs to be removed”, Welcome to black hole Earth!

  6. Google earth street view was removed in front of my property, It showed my car and me which did not want published, now there is new imagery of my street with the car not being there, untill you get close to my property and the old blurred image pops up.If you back up the street the new view clearly shows an empty street. I tried to get those morons to replace the old street view with the new street view which would not have anything to be blured but what do the idiots do… They completely blur out the car instead. They need to hire people with more that 2 brain cells.

    • Gravity says:

      And what if these policies were to change in which blurring was possibly no longer a need? All the unedited, and possibly in the distant future, potentially historical photos would be lost forever in replace of images ridden with blotchy spots. I say let images be preserved! As long as the historical images are kept offline and the only version accessible for the public is the version with things censored, it isn’t invasion of privacy.

      If you don’t like the extent of Google Street View privacy concerns, you could try joining this community:
      https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/criticism-of-google-street-view-privacy-concerns

    • Mr Chris Neal says:

      With the greatest respect, Human, I don’t understand why folk like you are so paranoid about images of themselves or their property appearing on street-view – unless for instance shown going into a brothel LOL.

      Blurring actually draws attention to the subject !!
      Why does the owner of this house want it blurred out? Perhaps in his garden he’s got valuable statuary or a valuable car – must check it out, see if it’s worth stealing.

      Yes, Google’s consequent blurring of street signs etc for fear of invading the privacy of folk in whom we have no interest, totally screws up the whole idea of street-view.

      Shame on you, Human, for your part in screwing up the value of streetview

      Chris

    • Same here. My house is blurred and I didn’t ask them to do that. Can’t unblur it and its the only house in the street that is blurred. Not happy about it. I hope someone can help me unblur it.

  7. Gravity says:

    The world loses so much that even if Street View images aren’t lost at all, there are still more than enough losses. Why support evanescence if there’s always enough of it? Much better way to deal with Street View: accepting that if you or your vehicle obscures some open space, you have no right not to be recorded.

  8. What a bunch of paranoiacs! Not only does my home appear on Google Street View, but so am I, standing in my driveway next to my vehicle, taking pictures of the Google car as it drove by.
    So what if your house appears on Google Earth? Are you meth cookers, terrorists or anti-government anarchists? Get a life. I think it’s kind of cool and I’ve shared my images with my friends on social media. Not only that, but I’ve been able to save images of the homes that numerous ancestors of mine have lived in over the years without having to drive over 600 miles to see them.

    • Marwinscott@yahoo says:

      My house has been blurred out even though it wasn’t requested so explain that!!!

      • My house was blurred by someone other than myself requesting that. I have repeatedly tried to let Google know I was the homeowner and I did not want my house blurred! 6 emails later it is still blurred. Each time they send me a standard form email stating my request does not match there criteria. So maddening! So yes, anyone can have someone’s image of their whole house blurred. They do not verify who is making the request!

        • Same thing has happened to me sometime last year, then new images were taken in 2015 with my house unblurred, and then the images disappeared and is showing 2014 images with my house blurred 🙁

          • My house is blurred. My request to unblur it was obviously machine-driven. Google denied my request to “blur” my house since it did not meet their criteria. Exactly! I have tried again, but expect the same result

  9. I’ve noticed that the street, houses and other buildings have been blurred making it difficult to see the neighborhood?

  10. Needed to find a particular government office (this is in the US). Every sign on that street, including the office I was looking for, was blurred. The addresses were blurred as well (and I’ve found that street view’s address estimate is not worth much where I live).

  11. Span Kurass says:

    I wonder how long it would take for Google to UN-Blur their own building if it was blurred by someone?

  12. My house is blurred too and no way to unblurr it

  13. We, the users of this product, should have the ability to un-blur blurred images of our homes.
    I am sure you have the previous file – WHY CAN YOU NOT ASSIST HOME OWNERS?
    We will be selling our home soon – and need people and realtors to SEE WHERE IT IS!!!

  14. There are actually only two possibilties:
    1. The reports that unblurred versions are lost forever are false
    2. We will mourn the damaged imagery rather sooner than later

  15. Jason Harris says:

    Granted; Google is providing a service to us with StreetView. However, Google is also providing the service FROM us, because without our properties and businesses… it would be useless. Therefore, I can see a valid argument in people wanting control over what is blurred and not blurred. It’s silly to blur the name of a public business when you’re attempting to verify that it’s where you want to go. It’s smart to blur the image of someone who does not want to be located by a stalker. The problem that I see is in the software’s inability to reliably distinguish the necessary from the unnecessary. We end up with a situation where we feel like we might need an eye exam while trying to navigate Blur-Topia.



PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.