After so many high-profile data breaches, it’s surprising how free millions of Americans are with their online information. Many are quick to do things like share their travels on social media (announcing to criminals that their homes are unoccupied) and buy from unsecure websites, risking their financial security.
But what about those of us who are cautious with what we share and where we shop online? We’re safe, right?
According to Norton Security, “Online privacy has less to do with what you are doing, and more to do with who you are AND what you are doing. On the Internet, data has high value. It’s stolen, sold, collected and analyzed.”
There are entire companies designed to collect your data and sell it to the highest bidder. By identifying which websites you visit, online purchases you make, and articles you read, they can formulate a pretty good idea of “who you are” and sell your personal information.
Essentially, you are creating a digital footprint. Without attempting to protect your digital privacy, you are leaving a trail for companies and criminals to find.
These days, living prepared means taking steps to protect your property and identity from endless online threats. Let's review some of the new fundamentals of digital privacy and then discuss steps you ought to be taking—including protecting your private information on Google Maps.
Why Digital Privacy Matters
Much of the information about you online goes to advertisers, which may seem harmless enough, but data brokers know more about you than you think.
Norton reports, “Earlier this year, a young woman purchased a few nondescript items such as cotton balls, unscented lotion and some vitamins. Based on what the company already knew about her, they were able to correctly predict that she was pregnant, and began targeting her for baby items by sending her coupons in the mail. The issue? She was a teenage girl, and these coupons alerted her father (much to his dismay) that she was indeed pregnant.”
This privacy breach may have ended up helping the family in question, but it’s not hard to imagine similar situations with far more sinister outcomes. As you can see, we need to take steps to protect our digital privacy.
Digital Privacy Steps to Take
In addition to digital privacy issues regarding advertisements, we should also protect ourselves online from the threat of cybercriminals. There are an alarming number of cyberattacks daily (4,000 a day). Unfortunately, you can’t trust organizations to protect your data, but you can take steps to protect yourself. Here are basic digital privacy tips from experts.
- Don’t give out personal info.
- Don’t store sensitive info on your computer.
- Create strong passwords.
- Use multi-factor authentication.
- Keep things up to date.
- Avoid public Wi-Fi.
- Don’t click suspicious links.
- Check your settings.
- Only use secure websites.
- Click, post, and type with caution.
[Related Read: Cybersecurity Threats You Should Be Aware Of]
How to Protect Your Home from Google
[IMAGE: Image of Google Maps - maybe the 3D street view image of a business or something that doesn’t put people’s privacy at risk - and put a red X through it]
[CAPTION: “To date, official Google Street View cars have captured 170 billion images from 10 million miles around the planet.”]
The steps above are very important, and generally well known. However, fewer in the general public are aware that one of the larger threats to personal security comes from Google Maps.
While you lock your doors, set the alarm, and close the curtains, you may feel like you are protecting your home from intruders. Unfortunately, digital lurkers can still see your home on Google.
Stop what you are doing and google your home address. In addition to the pinpoint of your location, it’s likely that you can see an image of your house. Some homes only have a satellite image, but many have a 3D Google Street View image.
With Google Street View, you can view your house and your street from different angles. And if you can view these images, it means anyone else who Googles your street or address can, too.
It gets worse. In 2020, Google updated their Street View mobile app, allowing anyone to “share their world with Street View.” In other words, anyone can download the Street View mobile app to their device, take photos of locations (your street, home, or business), and publish them on the web.
In the press release, Google claims, “Before this feature, you would typically need special 360-degree cameras to capture and publish Street View imagery. […] Now that anyone can create their own connected Street View photos, we can bring better maps to more people around the world, capturing places that aren’t on Google Maps or that have seen rapid change. All you need is a smartphone—no fancy equipment required.”
Allowing anyone to contribute to Google Maps Street View is a way for Google to capture images of unmapped parts of the world as well as updated images. This is in addition to the “170 billion images from 10 million miles around the planet” the official Google Street View cars have captured.
Here’s even more unsettling news. According to Google’s Street View trusted photographers policy, “Published images are typically visible on Google Maps within seconds.” Read that again. A stranger could take a photo of your home, and it can be published on Google Maps within seconds.
Unless you live completely off the grid, there is nothing you can do to prevent images of your home from being captured by Google Street View. Even before allowing anyone with the app to capture images, Google was taking photos when you were unaware.
In a CBS Local news report, a resident with privacy and security concerns complained, “You don’t know when Google goes by your house and takes a picture, so you can’t prep ahead of time.”
That doesn’t mean we should just accept this invasion of privacy. We must stay aware of the way Big Tech intrudes into our lives and do what we can to limit the amount of risk we allow. While we may not be able to remove our home addresses from the internet, we can take steps to protect our homes from unwelcome online views.
Why You Should Hide Your House from Google
As society grows more dependent on technology and the internet, Big Tech’s intrusion into our lives becomes easier to accept. However, along with the benefits it provides, there are major issues to consider, such as a loss of privacy. Take, for example, the ability of online stalkers and harassers to find out where you live.
According to Vox, “In 2014, video game designer Zoe Quinn was forced to move out of her house when trolls began posting photos of her apartment alongside graphic death threats — part of a harassment campaign known as Gamergate.” Simply by finding out where Quinn lived, online trolls were able to harass her to the point where it was no longer safe for her to remain living at the same address.
Technology, such as Google Maps Street View, makes it easier for criminals to find out more about your home than ever before. Richard Taylor, former lead for BBC’s To Catch A Thief and an ex-burglar in real life, writes, “Google Street View is nothing less than a burglar’s paradise […] Anyone who wants to burgle your house will be able to plan everything on their laptop [or mobile device] at home in the evening. […] If I were planning a burglary, Street View is the first tool I would use.”
Basically, your home is like a duck on Google Maps Street View...unless you take precautions.
How Criminals Use Google Maps to Their Advantage
Those with criminal intent find many ways to use Google Maps to their advantage. For one thing, it is a lot less suspicious to pull up Google Maps on a computer or mobile device than it is to drive an unfamiliar vehicle up and down a road. Here are just a few ways criminals use Google Maps:
- Locate entrances.
- Look for security cameras and other security features (e.h., gates or dogs).
- Discover bushes or other hiding places.
- Find holes or openings in fences.
- Locate outdoor utility boxes.
- Note vehicle information (make, model, color).
- Measure distances between your home and other locations to determine escape routes.
Some unlucky homeowners may even discover the Google Street View cameras captured their homes when doors were open, revealing even more personal effects, such as expensive electronics.
Other Reasons Google Maps Puts You at Risk
In 2013, 38 states brought a privacy case against Google Street View for secretly capturing personal information, including email, medical and financial records, and passwords. The Google Street View vehicles scooped the data from millions of unencrypted wireless networks for the homes it passed on its image-capturing treks. When it was discovered, it caused outrage around the world.
Deep-Learning Machines Are Using Google Street View
After the 2013 case, Google has continued to claim it is doing more to strengthen its privacy monitoring and quality controls. However, even if you encrypt your wireless network, people are still finding ways to use the information available on Google Maps to learn more about you.
In a report by MIT Technology Review, researchers claim, “A deep-learning machine has learned to tease apart the income and education levels of an area just by looking at Google Street View images.”
The deep-learning machine focused on identifying the vehicles in Google Street View images to decipher race, income, education levels, occupation, and political affiliations in residential areas. The results were remarkably accurate.
Steps to Blur Your Home on Google Maps
If you find this information alarming and want to remove your property from Google Maps, you can’t. Unfortunately, at this time, you cannot completely hide a residential address from Google Maps.
You can blur images of your home, vehicles, or people discovered on Google Maps Street View. Blurring makes it difficult for criminals to get vehicle information or see details about your property.
The good news is, the process to blur your home on Google Maps Street View is relatively easy.
- Open Google Maps and search your address.
- Click the yellow Google person and drag it on the map to open the street view. You can also simply click the photo that appears with your address.
- Once your home is the focal image, find the more options icon (the three vertical dots).
- Click on “Report a Problem.”
- This will open a Google Maps screen titled “Report Inappropriate Street View.”
- Adjust the red box so that it is focused on the part of the image you are reporting.
- Google then asks you what you would like to blur (A face, My home, My car/a license plate, A different object).
- You then need to provide additional information to help identify the correct home, car, or person that should be blurred.
- You are then asked for your email address and to complete a reCAPTCHA verification.
- Submit your request.
Protect your home and loved ones. Make a report today, friends.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply