Protecting the privacy of cows

This is not a serious posting, and I am not making any specific point. Instead it is something funny that caught my eye.

Automated software solutions can at times results in unintended consequences and this is one such example, Google street view software takes individual privacy seriously (quick rightly) and so it will automatically blur out things that it detects such as car number plates and also of course human faces. The huge scale of it all means that it must be automated because the cost of deploying humans to do this would quite obviously be huge.

The software algorithm is of course just crunching digital data and so what constitutes “human” will blur. To illustrate this we have now ended up with the observation that it is protecting the privacy of not just humans, but also cows …

I’d love to tell you which cow that is, but I can’t because its privacy has been protected.

This has all popped up because David Shariatmadari, an editor and writer for the Guardian, spotted this and pointed it out on twitter. Net effect, the story has gone a bit viral. Here is that alpha tweet …

… and yes, it is quite real, here is a link to the actual google maps original.

The responses

Oh come on now, you know that this is too good to miss, and so the tweeted responses are inevitable …

Some people think one cow looks much like any udder. Not so!

Had better milk that one for all it’s worth before that happens, then.

Google teat view

… and also …

How does Street View actually Blur?

Their stated policy is as follows …

Blurring policies: We have developed cutting-edge face and license plate blurring technology that is applied to all of Google’s Street View images. This technology is designed to blur all identifiable faces and license plates within Google-contributed imagery. If you see a face or a license plate that requires additional blurring, or if you would like us to blur your entire house or car, submit a request using the Report a Problem tool. We will also blur your entire house, car, portions thereof if you submit a request to us for blurring. Please note, however, that once Google blurs an image the effect is permanent. If you submit a request to have your personal home blurred from Google Street View imagery, all historical and future images of your home will also be blurred.

… and the technical paper that describes how it works is here.

When pointed out to them, the Google response was this …

We thought you were pulling the udder one when we herd the moos, but it’s clear that our automatic face-blurring technology has been a little overzealous.

Of course, we don’t begrudge this cow milking its five minutes of fame.

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