Some things, Google Street View hides automatically, and in great numbers: people’s faces, for one, and the licence plates of whatever they drive, for another. (The company, whose mission is to “organize the world’s information,” doesn’t always get it quite right.) But on Brock Avenue, as the street cuts through Little Portugal, there’s something blurred out that usually isn’t: a whole house. That’s it, above.
Here’s another, on Glen Gordon Road, near Keele Street and Bloor Street West:
And here’s one more on Dorval Road, near Dundas Street West and Bloor:
Google wouldn’t reveal how many more like those there are in Toronto when The Grid asked, but it doesn’t take much to get them that way; clicking the “Report a Problem” link at the bottom-right corner of any spot in Street View brings up a page where you can ask that whatever’s pictured be obscured. “When a user makes a request to have their house blurred,” wrote a spokesperson in an email, “we will honour the request and blur the image—typically within 48 hours.” Hundreds of thousands of Germans have taken advantage, but far fewer have here, which has meant that those most zealous about their privacy or least interested in arousing the suspicions of neighbours end up being the only ones for blocks to have their houses blurred—just the sort of thing that’d make a place more conspicuous rather than less.
Not surprisingly, those whose homes are hidden don’t have much to say about it. Calls to the phone numbers publicly listed for the same name as the apparent owner of the Brock house went unanswered, and voicemail messages went unreturned, as did calls to other numbers listed for the address. A young woman who came to the front door there last Thursday afternoon said that she didn’t know why it was blurred out. (The name she gave wasn’t the same as the owner’s, at least according to provincial land-registry records. Neighbours said a family of six lived there, but that the owner may live overseas.) The following Tuesday evening, two adult men and a woman working outside the house couldn’t answer any questions, gesturing that they did not understand English.
Over on Glen Gordon, a woman who answered a phone number listed for the address said that she wasn’t the owner and wasn’t “going to give you that information,” then quickly hung up. Provincial land-registry records show that the Dorval and Glen Gordon homes actually have the same husband-and-wife owners, though the wife sounded baffled when we reached her at the only number listed for the Dorval house. “As far as I know, we’ve seen our house on Google,” she said. You don’t seem to need to provide any proof that a house is yours when you ask that it be blurred out, and Google wouldn’t explain to The Grid how, or if, they verify requests. The woman on the phone was certain, anyway, that neither she nor her husband had ever asked that anything be concealed. “That,” she said, “I know.”
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