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Google Conflagration View

A Google Maps Street View driver has captured a house on fire while snapping photos on Eagle Point Drive in Sherwood, Ark.
A Google Maps Street View driver has captured a house on fire while snapping photos on Eagle Point Drive in Sherwood, Ark.Images of the unfortunate incident, noted on Neatorama and Valleywag, have, unfortunately, vanished like the incinerated house: In an attempt to deter gawking, Google Street View says, "This image is no longer available." Perhaps this is the beginning of a new policy: Where there's smoke, there's privacy.

Or maybe not. It turns out the flaming house can still be seen using an alternate Google Maps URL.

Google didn't immediately respond to a request to explain its image removal policy. But the company provides a way protect the privacy of people in Street View photographs by allowing users to report inappropriate images. And earlier this year, Google began blurring faces of people caught in Street View photos.

Google Australia recently removed the image of an Australian man, caught in a moment of drunken grief, sprawled on a sideway.

But there are plenty of Google Street View images that haven't been removed, such as this burning wreck. And evidently, there are plenty of Internet users who like to view such images, as can be inferred from the existence of sites like StreetViewFun.com.

Despite having been around since the 19th century, photography has once again become controversial, thanks to the organizational power and reach of Google.

Or perhaps it's just that Google has a lot of money. Consider the case of a Pennsylvania couple, the Borings, who are suing Google for taking pictures on and of their private property. Had the Boring home been featured in someone's Flickr photograph, there probably wouldn't have been a lawsuit.

We already have the term "blood sport" for sports like bullfighting that involve bloodshed. We're due for a term that captures the social voyeurism enabled by Street View. Too bad "privacy sport" is just too cumbersome to work.

"Google sport" has a nice ring to it, however.