Google Street View trike puts Central Park visitors on the map with its cluster of cameras
Smile if you’re in Central Park this week — you might be on Google’s candid cameras.
Even with the controversy surrounding the search engine’s Street View feature, the company pushed forward with its plan to photograph every nook and cranny of the 843-acre park that its souped-up pedicab camera can reach.
Tourists and residents alike gawked at the Street View Trike as it spun around Bethesda Fountain and cruised along the Mall beside Sheep Meadow.
The cluster of lenses set atop a 7-foot-9-inch pole will take panoramic shots of the park’s landmarks and footpaths so that when a user clicks on Strawberry Fields or the Reservoir in Google Maps, they’ll get a ground-level, 360-degree view of the land as if they were actually there.
But that virtual tour includes anyone caught in the background, like sunbathers in skimpy bikinis, or couples engaging in PDA in the park’s supposedly private corners.
“We blur every face, we blur every license plate. We really want to respect people’s privacy,” assured Jesse Friedman, Google’s product marketing manager.
“If somebody sees something on Street View that they don’t like, or it’s showing them in a way that they don’t want to have themselves shown, they can click on the little ‘report a problem’ link on the bottom of any image, and we will take action on it.”
Google launched the Street View mapping service in 2007, but soon came under fire after the images began catching some people in compromising positions — like walking out of an adult bookstore. They began blurring faces in 2008.
The Central Park Conservancy gave Google the green light to chart the park’s more than 60 miles of winding paths because there is no expectation of privacy in a public space that sees 38 million visitors a year.
“Technically speaking, it’s not illegal to take a picture of someone in a park,” said Adrian Benepe, the city parks commissioner, who argued for the collective benefits of Google’s imaging service.
“This is a great thing because it allows people from all over the world to do a virtual tour of Central Park — and even long-time New Yorkers can get lost here,” he said. “Central Park is notoriously difficult to get around.”
Parkgoers were split on whether the project provides a public service or zooms in too closely on their personal lives.
“They don’t need your permission? How is that legal?” asked Peter Williams, visiting with his family from Toronto.
“It’s an invasion of privacy. They should ask you before they put your picture online, not after the fact. It’s general courtesy.”
“I don’t want to be photographed,” agreed Pauline Bailey, visiting from England. “You shouldn’t be able to photograph people without them knowing it.”
Others embraced the opportunity. “My generation already puts everything on the Internet,” said Daniel Cudney, 17, visiting from Columbus, Ohio. “We’re putting crap on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram ... so it’s not like having your picture on Google changes anything.”
“I think it sounds kind of cool,” said his sister, Ebonne Jones, 31, from Harlem. “Maybe I don’t want them to blur me. I could be the face of Central Park!”