Google Street View Helps Find Missing Child

<a href="">Google Maps Street View</a>, a service that has been criticized as an invasion of privacy, has been used to help find a missing child.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

January 7, 2009

2 Min Read

Google Maps Street View, a service that has been criticized as an invasion of privacy, has been used to help find a missing child.In a blog post titled "Google Street View helps find kidnapped Mass. child," Pablo Chavez, senior policy counsel at Google, reports that 9-year-old Natalia Maltais, from Athol, Mass., was found safely at a motel on Tuesday with the help of Street View.

According to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, a police officer and deputy fire chief in Athol began looking for the child following a complaint from her guardians. Her grandmother reportedly picked her up on Saturday and her guardians became worried her grandmother might be taking the child to her biological mother in Louisiana.

Athol police had the girl's cell phone number after speaking with her and her grandmother on Monday evening, so they requested the GPS coordinates of the phone during recent uses from the phone's service provider.

Athol police officer Todd Neale worked with Deputy Fire Chief Thomas V. Lozier due to his familiarity with GPS tracking. The pair determined that the coordinates corresponded to an intersection on Virginia Route 11 near Natural Bridge, Va.

Using Google Maps Street View, the pair identified a building that looked like a motel, a suspicion confirmed by a subsequent Google search. They put in a call to the Virginia State Police, who visited the motel and found the girl and her grandmother.

The real story, however, could be more complicated and less feel-good than "Google helps reunite family" if, in fact, one person commenting on the incident on the Worcester Telegram & Gazette site is, as claimed, the girl's biological mother, Marlena Santos.

The person posting under the name "msantana" claims Natalia is her daughter and that police have put her back in danger. She accuses the girl's guardians of neglect and involvement with drugs.

If there's any truth to these claims, will Google revise its blog post title to read, "Google Street View returns fearful child to unhappy home"?

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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