404 Ben Kol, Niv Medlinger and a third friend in pixelated masks in a Google Street View photo

Published on November 12th, 2014 | by Ido Kenan


Thanks, Google, We’ll Pixelate Ourselves

Google automatically blurs faces of people who are caught on camera on its Street View street photographing project, to minimize the invasion of their privacy. The faces of Israelis Ben Kol, Niv Medlinger and a third friend who asked that his name not be mentioned are pixelated in photos Google recently uploaded of their place of residence, kibbutz Yegor. But in their case, Google didn’t need to graphically manipulate them: the three amigos faced its camera with their faces hidden behing masks, which depicted their self-pixelated self portraits.

A Google Street View photographer on a tricycle in kibbutz Yegor. Photo: Ben Kol

“Since we live in a kibbutz, Google contacted the kibbutz before coming to photograph it for Google Street View”, says Kol. “There was a bill posted saying they were going to scan the kibbutz – you know, we’re rural, we need an advance alert so we don’t panic”, he says kiddingly. “I contacted the person in charge, he told me roughly what their route is and when they’re coming”.

Kol turned to Facebook to consult his friends – “Tomorrow the people of Google Street View will photograph my kibbutz, give me ideas what to do”. His friend Shelly Duvilanski suggested: “Make a pixelated photo of your face, print it and wear it around as a mask”. Kol accepted the idea, and he and his friends took the pictures, pixelated them and made them into masks. On the appointed day they stood where the Street View vehicle was planned to drive through and raised the masks to their faces. “She smiled”, says Kol of the tricycle riding photographer who showed up.

Ben Kol, Niv Medlinger and a third friend in pixelated masks in a Google Street View photo

Now, two years later, Google finally uploaded the photos to Google Street View. “Basically we have a kind of a protest against the penetration of privacy with Google Street View. There was a story recently of a woman with a cleavage who sued Google [for posting her photo to Street View]”, says Kol, but then confesses: “The real reason was for fun, we wanted to do something special”.

Kol and his buddies are joining a series of residents who welcome Street View cars with spontaneous or planned receptions, whether in protest or in good fun, from raising a middle finger to well orchestrated performances. In 2010, a couple of Norwegians stalked a Street View car wearing scuba gear, and tried to hunt it down with harpoons. In 2008, Robin Hewlett and Ben Kinsley created Street with a View, a performance in which residents of Pittsburgh, PA, staged scenes in front of Street View cameras, including a marathon, a parade, a garage band practice, a wedding and a seventeenth century sword fight.

Published in The Jerusalem Post, 6 Nov. 2014; This post in Hebrew

About the Author

Ido Kenan is founder of Room 404, a longtime Digital Culture journalist and a raiser of two cats

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