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Google May Blur Canadian Faces and License Plates 232

Posted by kdawson
from the blur-me-blur-me dept.
KingK writes "Reuters reports that Google is considering a Canadian launch of its Street View map feature, which offers street-level close-ups of city centers. But the company said it would probably blur people's faces and vehicle license plates to respect tougher Canadian privacy laws."
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Google May Blur Canadian Faces and License Plates

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  • by eggman9713 (714915) <{eggman97132007} {at} {mac.com}> on Sunday September 30, 2007 @05:01AM (#20799865)
    Well, now I have to go find some other way to draw attnetion to myself. *Logs into Facebook*
    • by Pig Hogger (10379)

      Well, now I have to go find some other way to draw attnetion to myself. *Logs into Facebook*
      You don't need to. They said "blur faces and license plates". Last time I checked, "whale tails [urbandictionary.com]" are not considered license plates (and much less faces)...
  • Wow! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the roAm (827323) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @05:03AM (#20799875)
    Now I'm even more glad that I'm moving to Canada -- after seeing this story I looked up a bunch of stuff and apparently Canada has some of the best privacy laws in the world.
    • Re:Wow! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by aliquis (678370) <dospam@gmail.com> on Sunday September 30, 2007 @05:08AM (#20799899) Homepage
      You aren't allowed to publish photos of people who can be identified on the web without their permission in Sweden either. Why don't they just take 3 or more photos at the same place with some time inbetween and remove the parts "which has changed" between the shoots?
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by acoster (812556)
        Lighting conditions could change between those photos, making it rather awkward. Keep in mind that those pictures are taken by a car, so stopping for a while to take those shots is not really an option.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by aliquis (678370)
          Well, I don't know if you can force our laws on a project where someone from another country have taken photos here and publish it on the web and host them on foreign servers. I guess not, but then what is stoping ME from doing it and spreading photos of everyone on foreign servers?

          In case it's not legal I guess they need to find a way to solve it, or just not publish any photos from such countries.

          Also I where thinking like seconds appart (thought that will not remove cars which stand still), not hours.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by blowdart (31458)

            In case it's not legal I guess they need to find a way to solve it, or just not publish any photos from such countries.

            Or they could, shock horror, do the non-evil thing and blur faces and number plates for every country, as opposed to waiting to be forced to think about privacy by a particular country's laws.

            • Re:Wow! (Score:5, Interesting)

              by Metasquares (555685) <slashdot@nospAm.metasquared.com> on Sunday September 30, 2007 @09:44AM (#20800973) Homepage
              I was waiting for someone to say that.

              Hopefully without breaking the NDA, I should mention that people at Google looked at me strangely when I suggested that they blur faces on street view. They couldn't understand why the privacy implications of such a service are a problem, as what they are doing is technically legal in the USA. However, when people are posting images of random people picking their noses or something on Digg for millions to gawk at (and such things have appeared even on the Digg front page from time to time), there's a problem - it can ruin someone's reputation for a rather stupid reason if the person is identified. To me, that's evil. To them, fixing it should be the cautious thing to do so they don't get sued (weren't they already involved in a lawsuit for this?), even if it happens to jive with their morals.

              I don't know if the "don't be evil" thing is practiced as rigorously by the individual employees there as the company would like you to believe. Creating nifty things seems to win out over most moral considerations; at least, this was the impression I got while I was there. Nifty things are good, but people should think about how their technology is going to be used rather than just what they could make.
              • Re:Wow! (Score:5, Interesting)

                by seaturnip (1068078) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @12:09PM (#20801917)
                Reminds me of this passage from the Unabomber manifesto:

                131. Technicians (we use this term in its broad sense to describe all those who perform a specialized task that requires training) tend to be so involved in their work (their surrogate activity) that when a conflict arises between their technical work and freedom, they almost always decide in favor of their technical work. This is obvious in the case of scientists, but it also appears elsewhere: Educators, humanitarian groups, conservation organizations do not hesitate to use propaganda or other psychological techniques to help them achieve their laudable ends. Corporations and government agencies, when they find it useful, do not hesitate to collect information about individuals without regard to their privacy. Law enforcement agencies are frequently inconvenienced by the constitutional rights of suspects and often of completely innocent persons, and they do whatever they can do legally (or sometimes illegally) to restrict or circumvent those rights. Most of these educators, government officials and law officers believe in freedom, privacy and constitutional rights, but when these conflict with their work, they usually feel that their work is more important.
        • by linhux (104645)
          There are plenty of algorithms for compensating for varying lightning conditions. See HDR program or autostich-like software for examples.
        • So? It's not like there aren't ways around that; photosynth can do it for a million photos from any angle, doing it for 3 taken from a known angle is almost trivial.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 30, 2007 @05:13AM (#20799915)
      You are the kind of people Joseph McCarthy hates most. You fucking grow up in America and then betray us and go to live in commie-socialist Canada! NEVER COME BACK!

      VOTE GEORGE W. BUSH in 2008!

      Write in the man!
      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by toQDuj (806112)
        Mod parent funny :).
    • by arthurpaliden (939626) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @08:08AM (#20800401)
      Not only that, decent privacy laws, but in the province of Ontario women are allowed to go topless in public. Pitty it is soo cold that no one really does.....
      • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
        (not to mention lots of mosquitos in summer, at least up on Go Home Lake.)

        But if women ever go topless outside of mosquito season, watching them should be rewarding (.Y.)

        -b.

        • by Pig Hogger (10379)

          But if women ever go topless outside of mosquito season, watching them should be rewarding (.Y.)
          Especially thanks to the stiff nipples and the goosebumps...
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by clarkcox3 (194009)
        It's also legal in many American cities; people just tend to assume that toplessness is illegal. Take, for instance, New York city:

        The Court of Appeals of New York ruled in 1992 that exposure of a bare female breast violates this law only when it takes place in a commercial context.
        • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @12:51PM (#20802199)
          It's also legal in many American cities; people just tend to assume that toplessness is illegal. Take, for instance, New York city:

          The Court of Appeals of New York ruled in 1992 that exposure of a bare female breast violates this law only when it takes place in a commercial context.


          Okay, so no nude hookers, I get it.
      • It is more than hot enough in Ontario in the summer. The reason it is legal in Ontario is about ten years ago the police tried to prosecute a women for walking down the street topless. She defended it on the constitutional grounds that since men are allowed to walk down the street topless that it was sex discrimination for women not to be able to do the same. She won her case and that is why it is legal.

        That being said I have yet to see a women topless in public here in Ontario. Unlike London, England

        • by c6gunner (950153)
          When that ruling was first made, it was somewhat common to see topless women for a while. Then, like all fads, it faded away.
        • by ashitaka (27544)
          Because they can, doesn't mean they want to.

          What makes the experience uncomfortable is the unwanted attention of the lechers. If no-one actually noticed it wouldn't be a problem and you would probably see it more. However the reality is that a whole bunch of guys turn into redneck construction workers when they see a topless woman.
    • Just watch out for Manitoba. The day/month of birth is on the license plates of the vehicle owners. Actually, + 4 months - 1 day. That is the expiry of driver licenses, and Manitoba Public Insurance and the provincial government had a great idea of syncronizing vehicle issurance renewals with the driver licenses (it saves time!). But, they forgot that

      birth_date on license plate

      which I think they know is wrong, is about that the same as

      birth_date + 4 months - 1 day on license pl
      • by Curtman (556920)

        Just watch out for Manitoba. The day/month of birth is on the license plates of the vehicle owners.

        So why is my MPIC renewal in September and my birthday in May?
        • by Curtman (556920)

          So why is my MPIC renewal in September and my birthday in May?

          Arrghh.. Always preview. That should have read:

          Why isn't my MPIC renewal in September if my birthday is in May?
          • Why isn't my MPIC renewal in September if my birthday is in May?

            Maybe you're not who the government thinks you are. Could be problems. Or opportunities.

    • by Jeremy_Bee (1064620) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @12:54PM (#20802225)
      Canada does indeed have pretty good privacy laws (when they are followed) but this isn't one of them.

      Federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart is just plain wrong on this. Laughably wrong. Obviously wrong. 100%, "no-doubt-about-it" wrong.

      As a Canadian, I am *embarrassed* that a company like Google is going to be forced to blur over everyones face or possibly even not extend coverage to Canada because of the wrong opinion of one middle-aged woman.

      The operative part is this:

      "Canada's privacy law prohibits the commercial use of personal data without permission from the individual ... even if an individual gives consent, businesses must limit the collection, use and disclosure of personal data for uses that a reasonable person would consider appropriate under the circumstances ..."

      All perfectly reasonable right? Of course, but only when it comes to "personal information." The act envisions protecting things such as your bank accounts, your school and work records, and all those other things that any normal person refers to as "personal information." That's the intention of the law as written.

      and here is Jennifer's mistake:

      Stoddart says her office "... considers images of individuals that are sufficiently clear to allow an individual to be identified to be personal information within the meaning of [the act]."

      This is exactly the same, as the whining we heard from nervous "sensitive" people in the US when street view was introduced there. Many intelligent people pointed out that there was no reason to obscure faces, license plates etc., because they weren't "your" information or "personal information." They were merely the result of what any public person standing on that spot could see at any given time and in fact, just the same as any holiday snap taken by any citizen.

      Jennifer Stoddart is one of those "nervous" types of people with a strange idea of what "personal information" is. The intent of the privacy law in Canada was never that a shot of someone standing on a street corner is their "personal information" that's just Jennifer's interpretation, and that is the flaw in the argument. She is just wrong on her opinion that this is personal information.

      For instance, if such images *were* personal information, then all street surveillance cameras would be illegal or unconstitutional by the same act (they are not in fact they are all over up here). One could argue that cameras in banks are illegal by the same measure. Certainly the cameras mounted in police cars, and the (very common up here) use of hand held cameras by police to monitor crowds also illegal.

      There is nothing wrong with our privacy laws, it's just one person's mistaken interpretation of what constitutes "personal information" that is at fault here. Unfortunately, a lot of people will have to go through a lot of grief because of one STUPID person's "interpretation" of the law.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Khuffie (818093)
        Just as it is her opinion that a photograph of someone standing in the street is personal information, it is your opinion that it is not. The fact that you believe something does not make it fact and make other's beliefs 'opinions'. For instance, if such images *were* personal information, then all street surveillance cameras would be illegal or unconstitutional by the same act (they are not in fact they are all over up here). One could argue that cameras in banks are illegal by the same measure. Certainly
    • by jhylkema (545853)
      I feel the same way. For me, this is roughly Reason No. 4,691 to Move to Canada.

      I've had it with this country. I've tried so long and fought so hard, but the country's backsliding just gets faster and faster. Plus, one gets to a point in one's life where it becomes tempting to give someplace new a try.

      While I know that Canada is far from perfect, it's a lot closer to my values than America ever was, ever has been or ever will be. For instance, the U.S. is looking at a never-ending war in Vietraq. You g
  • by The Amazing Fish Boy (863897) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @05:18AM (#20799927) Homepage Journal
    If they have the technology, why wouldn't they do the same across the board? It's not as though there's added value in seeing someone's face or license plate. The article doesn't mention anything about this.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by toQDuj (806112)
      Probably because it costs quite a bit of computing time to recognise faces and number plates in gajillions of images... It's all about money in the end.

      p.s. CAN SOMEONE PLEASE SWITCH OFF THAT FUCKING DELAY BETWEEN POSTS!
      • Probably because it costs quite a bit of computing time to recognise faces and number plates in gajillions of images... It's all about money in the end.

        I don't know, this seems like a prime task for Amazon's mturk [wikipedia.org]. How much can someone do in an hour? At $1.20/hr, that comes to ... ?

        p.s. CAN SOMEONE PLEASE SWITCH OFF THAT FUCKING DELAY BETWEEN POSTS!

        Sure, once they turn off advertising for subscribers :-P
      • Probably because it costs quite a bit of computing time to recognise faces and number plates in gajillions of images... It's all about money in the end.
        Just pass on that CPU usage to the end user, no need to alter the source images, eh?
    • by RajivSLK (398494)
      Perhaps it takes a lot of time and money to go through all the photos and blur people and plates. Or, perhaps, the technology isn't that great and they want to test it out on Canada first.
      • by dajak (662256)
        Or, perhaps, the technology isn't that great and they want to test it out on Canada first.

        Blurry satellite imagery is not new technology or anything. Large parts of the world already have blurryness in Google Earth. It's highly overrated.
    • by speaker of the truth (1112181) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @05:51AM (#20800027)
      A more important question is why doesn't the US have these laws?
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 30, 2007 @07:38AM (#20800311)

        why doesn't the US have these laws?
        Are you kidding? Why would it?

        Everybody knows that the US is one of those countries where you have to vote for either wing of the governing two-wing status-quo-conserving party if you want your vote to count, and where the government has a security police that can take away your rights at the flip of a hat if they decide to consider you a threat.

        Why would the US suddenly have strong privacy rights? How would that facilitate the work of the government's security police?

        Of course in the US these things are sugar-coated in somewhat different ways than in other countries that have similar arrangements. In the US the terminology is emotionally charged in ways that will appeal specifically to the American temperament. So the government's security police is called Department of Homeland Security, and the suspicions that take away your right will invariably mention Terrorism.

        But that's just sugar-coating over the same old ugly mess.
      • by Pig Hogger (10379)

        A more important question is why doesn't the US have these laws?
        Because, you pinko commie, that would be an anti-business law.
    • by shma (863063)
      Because it's costly and no one's asking them to do it.
  • Using what filter? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Realistic_Dragon (655151) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @05:39AM (#20799985) Homepage
    The Japanese blur their porn, and so someone has invented a device that removes it and restores the original image. This is possible because it performs a transformation from a limited set every time and so all you need is one clean sample.

    If Google does the same you would need to find a photo that is probably of someone you have an image of once (or at worst a few times - hardly a problem when you consider the collaborative effort available) and the set up a un-blurring filter that would work with all their images.

    These problems have all been solved - using a cryptographic RNG as a noise source for example - but they require more computing power and so it would be very tempting to save money by taking a short cut.
    • Goodness. I really don't think so. Porn reconstruction is easy: nipples are nipples, groin bits are groin bits. They're generally soft tissue that is easily deformed, they're not that recognizable as belonging to a specific to individual, and no one cares if they're a bit distorted in reconstruction.

      Faces: oh, my goodness, faces are a different story. Facial recognition is deeply wired into the human brain and human behavior, one of the first skills an infant learns is whom their parent's faces belong to an
      • by jamesh (87723)
        If I understood the GP, then you didn't :)

        The theory being put forward is that if the filter is not a 'one way' filter, then it wouldn't be too hard to get the actual original data back again. eg if the filter worked on a 2 x 2 matrix, and it said 'swap the points at 0,0 and 1,1, and the points at 0,1 and 1,0', then all of the original data is still there, just moved around. If you can figure out the translation (eg if you have a copy of the original and the blurred copy) then you can reconstruct it. If, ho
      • by Pig Hogger (10379)

        Porn reconstruction is easy: nipples are nipples, groin bits are groin bits.
        ...
        faces are a different story. Facial recognition is deeply wired into the human brain and human behavior,
        Dunno about you, but pr0n recognition is deeply wired in MY brain...
        • Well, yes, but *whose* naughty bits? How many of us could recognize our former sweethearts by their groin bits? At least without reading tattoes or piercings with nametags on them?
    • by wfberg (24378)
      Or... you could just use a black square. Definately loses information.
    • I seriously doubt that somebody has invented a device that allows you to restore digitally masked footage. First of all, where does the clean sample come from? Second of all, those digital squares are a bit large; while you could manage to perhaps create a fuzzy, oddly greyish looking bit of genetalia, it would lack any realistic detail. Maybe in a Hollywood sci-fi movie, but not in real life. I've seen Japanese porn, and I've worked in television effects for more than ten years; this is definitely news
      • Don't tell Dr. Jones about this. [dheera.net]

        The example isn't a photo, but I don't think it's inconceivable to apply similar techniques on blurred photographs.
        • The example isn't a photo, but I don't think it's inconceivable to apply similar techniques on blurred photographs.

          It is inconceivable to use his method with a photo. He specifically refers to blurring of information that has a limited number of "true" values (ie, text and numbers) and creates a matrix for reconstruction using analysis of blurring patterns based on the potential true values.

          Ok for 26 letters, ten numerals and any combination of known structures, but faces? Especially when the blurrin

      • by Dogtanian (588974)

        Second of all, those digital squares are a bit large; while you could manage to perhaps create a fuzzy, oddly greyish looking bit of genetalia, it would lack any realistic detail.

        Yes, but in case of video/film, you have multiple frames, and if something is moving linearly (but not deforming or rotating) in a given direction- or alternately if the camera is panning in the opposite direction- then if the block coordinates are fixed relative to the screen, you should theoretically be able to get higher resolution in the direction of motion using some maths.

        For example, in frame 1, block (0,0) is made up from object coordinates (0,0), (1,0), (2,0), (3,0) and block (1,0) from coords (

    • by Mike1024 (184871)
      The Japanese blur their porn, and so someone has invented a device that removes it and restores the original image. This is possible because it performs a transformation from a limited set every time and so all you need is one clean sample.

      You realise that several (Japanese, I think) blurring algorithms are specifically designed to be reversible [vector.co.jp], right?

      Properly designed blurring filters cannot be reversed so easily! Alternately, instead of blurring, they could just use black squares [dheera.net] to cover stuff up.
  • by adnonsense (826530) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @06:10AM (#20800073) Homepage Journal

    Maybe Google should adapt their filter software so it blurs the face of anyone with a Canadian flag patched attached to themselves ;-)

  • Given the way that Google caved in to the Chinese demands [bbc.co.uk], will they supply the CIA with a means of undoing this blurring? You would hope they would make it a one-way process, but that probably requires cryptography, hence computing power, hence money.
  • by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Sunday September 30, 2007 @07:14AM (#20800261) Homepage
    Looking at a scene with blurred out faces will detract from the view, humans are very sensitive to problems with faces.

    Google should find people who are willing for their faces to be used this way. Using the same face would be kind of disturbing, so a selection of faces would be needed, perhaps to roughly match the face that is being replaced (hair colour, race, sex, ...).

    Think of the fun that we could have: a kind of Google powered Where's Wally [thegreatpi...hunt.co.uk] .

    There could even be a market for this: budding politicians, wannabe starlets who might pay to have their face become recognised or become familiar.

  • by Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @08:23AM (#20800473)
    America is dead. Nothing to see here. Vote for either party, buy a big mac cause all is well. You need not worry, the US government is taking care of everything for you.
  • How? (Score:5, Funny)

    by c (8461) <beauregardcp@gmail.com> on Sunday September 30, 2007 @09:02AM (#20800691)
    License plates shouldn't be a problem, but how does the algorithm know Canadians from non-Canadians?
    • by loconet (415875)
      It looks for the people drinking a douple double. Duh!
    • by freeweed (309734)
      Flapping heads.
    • Re:How? (Score:5, Funny)

      by jagdish (981925) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @11:36AM (#20801707)
      "Last night, I cashed my pogey and went to buy a mickey of C.C. at the beer parlour, but my skidoo got stuck in the muskeg on my way back to the duplex. I was trying to deke out a deer, you see. Damn chinook, melted everything. And then a Mountie snuck up behind me in a ghost car and gave me an impaired. I was S.O.L., sitting there dressed only in my Stanfields and a toque at the time. And the Mountie, he's all chippy and everything, calling me a shit disturber and what not. What could I say, except, 'Chimo!'"
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ColdWetDog (752185)
        Oh Christ. It took me years (and a couple of British girlfriends) to understand British humor. And now this? I don't even think I'm gonna try.
  • A better method than blurring, and irreversible, is to substitute someone else's face, scaled to the same size. They could use CmdrTaco's mug shot.

  • Vacation pictures? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by macemoneta (154740) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @09:39AM (#20800927) Homepage
    So my vacation pictures from our visit to Canada that I posted on my web site are somehow illegal? Public photos of public spaces. Everyone could see those faces and license plates when the pictures were taken - how is this a privacy issue? When you can't make sense of laws anymore, everyone is a criminal.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by KillerBob (217953)
      Depending on where you posted them, and what purpose posting them has, then yes, they would be illegal. I doubt very much that anybody in those pictures is going to make a complaint, but Canadian privacy laws say that you need written consent from everybody who appears in images that you publish. They also say that if you don't get written consent from anybody, then you can't publish them.

      It's up to the person whose privacy has been violated to make a complaint and prosecute though.

      The thing that separates
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Scrameustache (459504)

      So my vacation pictures from our visit to Canada that I posted on my web site are somehow illegal?

      Vacation pictures are not illegal because they are information collected by individuals for non-commercial uses:

      Limit
      (2) This Part does not apply to

      (a) any government institution to which the Privacy Act applies;

      (b) any individual in respect of personal information that the individual collects, uses or discloses for personal or domestic purposes and does not collect, use or disclose for any other purpose; [justice.gc.ca] or

      (c) any organization in respect of personal information that the organization collects, uses or disc

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      Only if the person is identifiable and the subject of the photo. People in the background are allowed, with the possible exception of Quebec.

      The exception, depending on the province, is for commercial use. Google is definitely commercial use. There may be a problem because it's such a massive project as well.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 30, 2007 @10:53AM (#20801429)
    I saw a Canadian once. I can, er, understand why they don't like to be photographed...
  • This is not surprising. On July 14, 2007 at 10:00, I saw this van on the Tadoussac ferry (right here [google.com]): 1 [205.205.253.95] 2 [205.205.253.95] 3 [205.205.253.95] 4 [205.205.253.95].
    • by leoc (4746)
      I don't know if thats what Google uses... I saw a california plated dodge neon out here in vancouver the other day with the actual google logo and a tripod mounted camera on the roof.
  • by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Sunday September 30, 2007 @11:26AM (#20801637) Homepage
    In accordance with Bill 101, Google will also be changing all of the signs to read in French first, with English in smaller type beneath.
  • license plates (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zippthorne (748122) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @11:52AM (#20801815) Journal
    Why do they call them "License Plates" when they contain only the car's registration number and confer no actual privileges?
  • by waterford0069 (580760) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @11:56AM (#20801843) Homepage
    What is not pointed out very often is that there were two companies that provided the initial data for street view. One did San Francisco (where all the funny shots of identifiable people are seen). The other company has done all the other cities so far.

    That second company has dropped the resolution down so far that you can't recognise the people unless they are standing on the roof of the camera-car AND has taken their data set and scrubbed it of images that easily identify other people and vehicles where they have been close enough to recognise.

    This second company is the one that is providing the data to Google in Canada and 99% of the US. Check out any city BUT San Francisco on Street View.

    This is a NON-Story
  • Who cares about blurring license plates when most of the world is still blurred by poor or no coverage other than the basic landsat boilerplate. People in these places would benefit the most by the basic GIS tool that Google Earth/Map is at its best, whereas big cities in the west being covered at these high resolutions is a luxury we dont really need. One would think obtaining basic sat pics of third world countries and remote regions would be a lot cheaper then covering license plates of metropolitan area
    • Umm, I think your sig points to an inherent bias in your system. While you may be doing something much more wonderful and lasting than creating pictures of garbage in some random city streets, you have to remember that Google isn't here to help the world. It's here to make money.

      People are money.

      Cities are full of people.

      The money is in the cities. So are the pictures.

      Sorry about that.

  • They already have this in Canada, and people's faces aren't blurred. There hasn't been a lot of publicity about this site yet though: http://www.virtualcity.ca/ [virtualcity.ca]
  • That's the solution that would make everyone happy.

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