I have a problem.

Last week, instead of investigating an issue with one of my project platforms, I was exploring via Google Streetview a town in British Columbia verifying that photos of certain mysterious creatures inexplicably had their faces blurred by Uncle Google’s algorithms.

In an upcoming “thing” in a few weeks I hope to be making a case for the power of maybe misusing my “productivity time” for the exercise of following a curiosity signal. There’s something important to me, at least, about exercising that tingling when there is a promise of a trip down the rabbit hole– and it’s never about catching the rabbit, but just the chase.

Twitter of course excels in providing these jump off points… and I can hardly spend all my days chasing rabbits, but a good run, say 45 minutes, is something I can make room for. It feels like good brain exercise. This one started from a great source I have followed so long I cannot remember, ResearchBuzz:

I cannot fully identify why this tweet, among so many, was one that called to click. I am not one of the devoted trackers of these hypothetical creatures. Sasquatch is hardly a center of interest though as I unpack below, it/he/they (what are the pronouns?) is a metaphor I have exploited before.

And the lore seems to be that all photos of Sasquatch et al are blurry but I am like others and ask why (I like the suggested answer because they are actually blurry!)

And in Tweetdeck I did not even have the links preview like above which means the entrance to the hole was merely the text of the tweet “Everyone deserves #privacy . Even sasquatches. (Sasquatchii?) #GoogleMaps” and previously built in experience that @ResearchBuzz tweets good stuff.

The Rabbit Hole Entrance

The story Sasquatch censored? Harrison’s landmark carving is camera shy in Google StreetView’s eyes is from the Vernon (B.C.) Morning Star, noting a quirk identified by others about its town’s welcome sign statue gets the personal privacy treatment in Google Streetview.

Local Facebook groups were amused by a quirk of the interactive map-making technology that normally blurs the faces of people pictured in StreetView pictures. According to an observation originally posted on Twitter from CBC Vancouver municipal affairs reporter Justin McElroy, it seems the face-hiding feature also works on large wooden statues; the grinning face of the iconic Sasquatch statue that sits outside the welcome sign at the entrance of Harrison Hot Springs has also been blurred.

https://www.vernonmorningstar.com/trending-now/sasquatch-censored-harrisons-landmark-carving-is-camera-shy-in-google-streetviews-eyes/

My curiosity could have ended there. The typical response might be to retweet, send a link to a friend, and move on to the more important work of the day. But something kicked off the switch here. And this goes back to the information literacy stuff I followed long ago from Mike Caulfield when he was calling it the Four Moves strategy and now is SIFT– the act of following sources upstream. I often do this as much of what is reported on web sites is a reframing of something published elsewhere, often itself a recasting of… It’s the act of reading of a summary of a research study, and going to the bother of finding the source.

But still, this blurring of Sasquatch statues hardly beckons for further research. I do not doubt the story in the Vernon Morning Star. And it’s questionably of importance. It’s something else…

Maybe it is an associative trail? There was some trigger of connection- I have never been to Harrison Springs but saw the signs for it many times in 2014-2015 when I was in Kamloops for a few months of a fellowship at Thompson Rivers University. And I actually recognized the statue!

Earlier that year I did a talk playfully comparing the myth of OER reuse being as challenging to track as finding clear photos of Bigfoot, Nessie, et al. I collected examples shared by colleagues as a collection of Amazing Stories of OpennessTannis Morgan took on the full spirit in her sharing and even tweeted about it– posed with the said Sasquatch blurred by Google!

But the real call is that this is eminently repeatable. Google Streetview is wide open for you to go anywhere in the world their car mounted cameras have gone, and explore yourself. It’s got so many, close to infinitely interesting elements for creative or explorative learning activities. Heck one time on a highway I spotted the Streetview car coming at me, and I waved– it took a year but I did find myself there.

Into the Hole

It’s easy enough to find Harrison Hot Springs in Google Maps and then drop the streetview icon, I am able to “drive” up the road into town.

Heading north on Hot Springs Road https://goo.gl/maps/Mz6eF29eWUwtHRow9

This probably is not the efficient way to search for blurry Sasquatch… but I did get luck, I spotted a statue outside the the RV resort, a different statue than what was in the news story. But OMG, yes, the statue’s face is blurred:

Who is that blurred face creature outside the Springs RV resort?

Just wandering around the streets was interesting if not efficient. So if I use a search on “Sasquatch Statue” while in this area, it gets much easier:

Searching for Sasquatch Statues near Harrison Hot Springs, BC

Very quickly I found one (face blurred) near the waterfront:

Looks like Sasquatch. Maybe. As usually, the figure is blurry, and even more so in the face.

And then the main one featured in the news story, identified in Google Maps as Sasquatch Statue 3

Confirmed the news story!

Now here is a fun thing you may not know, Google Streetview keeps a timeline of photos from different time periods, so if you click the date in the top left, you can see the same location taken on different dates. So I am able to document that Sasquatch, blurry or not, was there greeting visitors in September 2015, but not in August 2011!

While poking around, I noticed some interesting things with Streetview. It does blur the face of humans walking around, but not dogs.

The privacy of humans is protected by a blur, but not for pooches.

And the blurring on statues is not even consistent- I found this one at a housing development, and the woord statue seems to have blurred the figure with an eagle head, but not the bears.

Which statues get the blur treatment? Only Google’s algorithm knows

So there is some kind of hierarchy for facial shapes that get the blur treatment? Again, the relative importance of this is highly questionable (especially if anyone is left reading this). But that is maybe not my point

Do I have one?.

What’s the Point Alan?

There’s something to be said for just reading and interpreting information versus interacting with the sources behind it. There’s not enough time in any day to do this (or perhaps not enough justification), but these small acts can plant seeds for other ideas that may emerge later. Knowing/reinforcing a few things here:

  • Google Streetview is a fully navigable immersive world
  • Every single view can be referenced, shared with a URL.
  • You can search for things within the geographical context of a map location
  • And the Streetview has a timeline, to see the same view across different years
  • The application of the face blurring, to protect privacy, has some interesting loopholes in it.

I would never have gotten this by reading a story and retweeting it.

This also reminds me of some interesting digital art I came when I learned of the work of visual artist Emilio Vavarella… in his Google Trilogy, he exploited Google’s Streetview to examine unintended effects such as glitches, or the accidental appearance of the camera’s operator, as part of questioning of the people, technology, and errors in the large data sets we use regularly.

So maps are useful for finding locations, getting from one place to another, but there is so much more potential when you look with a curious eye.

That’s what I find, emerging from the rabbit hole.

PS This is an installment of my participating in the 2022 Write 6×6 Challenge, they may never anticipate what the heck gets syndicated into their site!


Featured Image: Not in the original, but I added my own blur to a statue of Bigfoot I saw in a small California town in 2014. I leave it to someone else to find in Google Streetview.

A statue of a large brown creature, it's face blurred, in front of a red, wooden front store
Based on Bigfoot Wants Beer flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

If this kind of stuff has value, please support me by tossing a one time PayPal kibble or monthly on Patreon
Profile Picture for cogdog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this rabbit hole, Alan. Maybe I can start plugging in a couple of hours a week for this kind of web-spelunking one day. I want to, should, and… just never seem to find a way. So I’m glad you’re roaming around out there and letting me tag along.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *