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8/9/2010
07:10 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Street View Privacy Fix Turns People To Ghosts

Some people believe that they're entitled to privacy when in public. To such people, Google's Street View cars, which drive around taking pictures of public streets, represent a privacy threat. Now two UC San Diego computer scientists believe they have a way to conceal individuals from Google's prying lenses.

Some people believe that they're entitled to privacy when in public. To such people, Google's Street View cars, which drive around taking pictures of public streets, represent a privacy threat. Now two UC San Diego computer scientists believe they have a way to conceal individuals from Google's prying lenses.As noted by CNET, Arturo Flores and Serge Belongie presented a paper in June at the IEEE International Workshop on Mobile Vision that described a way to remove pedestrians from Google Street View images.

"A compositing method for creating 'ghost-free' mosaics is used to minimize the introduction of artifacts," the paper states. "This yields Street View images as if the pedestrians had never been there."

In fact, the sample images included in the paper aren't entirely "ghost-free" -- you can still see evidence that the images have been altered in the form of blurred pixels.

These ghosts that give the images an eerie quality. They serve as a reminder of the life that has been drained from landscape.

The technique relies on the fact that Google Street View cars capture multiple images from different angles at different times. This allows the background that cannot be seen because people are in the way to be reproduced and pasted over those captured in the images.

Adobe's latest version of Photoshop CS5 offers a similar capability called Content-Aware Fill, though Adobe's technology works by examining the background around an excised foreground object rather than by reproducing obscured background surfaces from an image taken using an alternate angle.

Whether Google wants to bother with this technique remains to be seen. It already blurs people, license plates, and horses in Street View images. Creating depopulated, post-apocalyptic cityscapes may be just too much effort.

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