How Criminals Use Google Street View to Case the Joint

Learn how to blur your home from view

A man handcuffed in a courtroom.


Chris Ryan / Getty Images

The Google Maps service just keeps getting better and better. The recent addition of true 3-D terrain makes them even more true to life. Google Maps Street View is one of my favorite features. It lets you virtually stand in the middle of a road just about anywhere in the world and look around.

Want to see what your old school looks like 10 years later? Punch in the address into Google Maps Street View and you are whisked away to exactly where you told it to go.

Once you choose Street View, you can use your mouse to look up and down, spin around, walk down the block, zoom in on something, just as if you were there. You can see people on the street, all of them seemingly frozen in time by Google's Street View Capture Camera Van that drove by and snapped a panoramic picture that was later stitched together with others to provide you with the surreal experience of being there without really being there.

After you've marveled at the technological wonder that is Google Maps Street View, take a step back and put your 'bad guy hat' on for a second. If you are a criminal, then Google Maps Street View is the best thing since sliced bread. What could be better than being able to virtually 'case the joint' from the privacy of your own home?

Criminals can go to Google Maps, punch in an address, turn on Street View, and check out a residence or building of interest to perform virtual reconnaissance before they break and enter or perform some other nasty deed. Sure the data isn't close to real-time and can be very stale for some areas, but most major buildings aren't going to change a lot over a short period of time. Usually, the map data is time-stamped at the bottom of the image so the bad guys know exactly when the image was taken.

Criminals Can Use Google Maps Street View to

  • Locate entrances to buildings
  • Determine locations of security cameras, gates, etc
  • Find good hiding places such as in shrubs and other areas
  • Find holes or weak spots in perimeter fences
  • Locate utility boxes (power, water, gas, etc)
  • See what make, model, and color of vehicle a building occupant or resident drives
  • See if locks, guards, dogs, etc, are normally present
  • Measure distances between objects (using Google Earth) to determine how quickly it would take to run or drive from one point to another.

All of this information can be found without the bad guys ever setting foot near the building or property they are interested in. Using Google Maps Street View arouses a lot less suspicion than if they were to actually visit the site and stand in the middle of the road for a look-see.

Now granted, the Google Street Camera Capture Vans won't drive up a private drive, but if the building is on or near a public street then it is fair game. Google maps is also supposed to automatically obscure (blur) text on buildings, license plates, peoples faces, etc, but even without those tidbits of data, there is still a lot of useful information that is provided via Street View.

How Can You Prevent Your Home or Business From Being Seen

Say you want to blur your home from view on Street View, Google states that they "provide easily accessible tools allowing users to request the further blurring of any image that features the user, their family, their car, or their home." For businesses, the opt-out process is less clear.

You can request to have your home, car, etc, removed from Google Maps Street View by completing the following process:

  1. Go to Google Maps and enter your address
  2. Click on the Street View by clicking the little yellow person in the corner of the image window on the left side of the screen
  3. Make sure that the image of your home (or whatever you want blurred) is shown
  4. Click on the "Report a Problem" link in the bottom left corner of the image in the Street View pane on the right side of the screen
  5. Complete the form and click the "Submit" button

Microsoft's Bing Maps has a similar street view feature called "Streetside View". The opt-out process is similar except that you choose the arrow at the bottom right corner of the image and choose the link that says "Report an Image of Concern" to request an opt-out image blur.

Your other option is to put a giant blue tarp over your house but I don't think that would be practical so I suggest the opt-out method instead.