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Japan police give out pointers on how to foil Google Street View criminals

Officers from Aichi Prefectural Police Handa Police Station explain how to request something be blurred out on Google Street View, in Handa, Aichi Prefecture, on Oct. 13, 2022. (Mainichi/Ayaka Morita)

HANDA, Aichi -- Google Maps' Street View is tremendously convenient, but sometimes for the wrong people, like stalkers, or thieves who use the service to case their targets before stealing cars or burgling homes. The problem has left experts calling for measures to cut back on the information available on Street View that can be used by criminals.

    On Oct. 13th, officers from Aichi Prefectural Police's Handa Police Station conducted a crime prevention assessment in this city's Nakamura neighborhood. As the officers looked around, Nobuo Adachi, deputy chief of the station's Community Safety Division, gave out hints on avoiding becoming a victim of crime, including, "If you leave ladders out, criminals can climb up them, so please keep them inside."

    He also advised residents to ask Google to blur out their homes and cars in Street View so no one can digitally scout their property.

    To get your home blurred out on Street View, go to Google Maps and select "Report a problem" from the dropdown menu next to the location at top left. After moving a frame over the area you want to blur, select a reason from the reasons for blurring from "A face," "My home," "My car / a license plate," and "A different object." Give more details about what you want blurred out in the text box, enter your e-mail address, and hit submit. The change can take effect as soon as the day of the request.

    After the police did their sweep of the neighborhood and dispensed advice, community association head Yoshio Nakano, 73, said, "I now understand the danger of Street View. I want to make sure residents are aware of the risks created by the service so that it can't be misused, and I'd like to enhance the community's crime prevention capabilities."

    Rissho University criminology professor Nobuo Komiya said of the criminal uses for Street View, "It provides not only information on buildings and vehicle types, but also a detailed look at the surroundings, so (criminals) can see a house's structure plus escape routes without actually going there to look at it," making it easier to commit crimes. He said criminals look for "houses that are easy to enter but hard to be seen" before actually committing crimes.

    Komiya added, "First of all, we want people to remember to lock their doors. Also, pretend to be a robber looking for entry routes into your home, and then put obstacles on those routes to make it more difficult to get in. After that, make sure to avoid leaving valuables where they can be seen on Street View."

    (Japanese original by Ayaka Morita, Nagoya News Center)

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