A Google Street View driver is just doing his thing, capturing images for us to use in Google Maps and Google Earth. All of a sudden he’s stopped by authorities and detained as a government spy. Seems legit, right?
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That’s exactly what happened to a Google employee in a village in northern Thailand. The villagers in Ban Sa-iap have been opposing a government dam project in their area. The dam would demolish local forests and the villagers don’t want it to be built. When Deeprom Phongphon came through the area in his Google Street View car, the villagers assumed he was secretly running a survey for the dam project. Even though the car was painted with the conspicuous Google Maps pattern, the villagers surrounded the car, forced him to stop, and bombarded him with questions about what he was doing. The Bangkok Post reports that they detained him and made him swear on a statue of Buddha that we was not a spy, but merely a Google employee doing his job.
The villagers apologized after they realized why Phongphon was in their village. They filed a formal apology with Google as well as the Street View car driver. They said they had been “extremely worried and there had been so many repeated cases that convinced the villagers to believe someone was trying to survey the area in disguise.”
A Google representative responded by saying that “we sometimes encounter unexpected challenges.” The Google representative, Taj Meadows, stated that he believed Phongphon had not broken any laws because the driver was only taking photos of public property. The driver of vehicle was released and allowed to continue documenting the streets of Ban Sa-iap.
The Google Street View project was launched in May of 2007. It started out as images of streets in just a few U.S. cities, but has since expanded to include both major cities and rural areas all over the world. Google uses tricycles, called Google Trikes, and snowmobiles to reach out-of-the-way areas that cannot be reached by car. Google has even begun to take images inside buildings and under the ocean, offering virtual tours of museums and the sea floor using its Street View technology.