A Cow With No Name: Google Blurs Bovine Face For Privacy : The Two-Way "We thought you were pulling the udder one when we herd the moos," Google said. But it's true — automatic identity protection kept this passing animal incowgnito.
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A Cow With No Name: Google Blurs Bovine Face For Privacy

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A Cow With No Name: Google Blurs Bovine Face For Privacy

A Cow With No Name: Google Blurs Bovine Face For Privacy

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/494210526/494283787" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And now the story of a cow incognito. Google Street View took a photo that was unintentionally hilarious, and the Internet is milking it for all its worth. NPR's Camila Domonoske joins us to explain.

Hey there, Camila.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: All right, so paint me a picture. What do you see if you load Street View at this one spot in England?

DOMONOSKE: So you see a stream, and you see a cow crossing a path with its face precisely blurred out. So you can see everything else about the picture, except for the identifying features of this one cow.

CORNISH: OK, the identifying...

DOMONOSKE: (Laughter).

CORNISH: ...Features (laughter) of a cow. Do we know why this cow is blurred?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah, so Street View has an automatic system that detects faces and also license plates and blurs them. These are supposed to be the faces of people. There's no interest in protecting the privacy of cows. But in this case...

CORNISH: Yeah, did the cow request it?

DOMONOSKE: (Laughter).

CORNISH: There's many questions here.

DOMONOSKE: Right? And what's also peculiar is there's a cow immediately behind the first cow, face entirely un-blurred (laughter).

CORNISH: Just out to the world, inappropriate.

DOMONOSKE: Yep.

CORNISH: So how did people find out about this?

DOMONOSKE: So an editor at The Guardian zoomed in and saw this single shot and tweeted about it. A lot of people had fun tweeting in response, asking if the cameras had to ask the cow to mooove (ph) out of the way, saying this was an example of Google teat view. And then Google itself actually responded. And I'm just going to go ahead and read their statement.

(Reading) We thought you were pulling the udder one when we herd the moos. And that's H-E-R-D (laughter). But it's clear that our automatic face-blurring technology has been a little overzealous. Of course, we don't begrudge this cow milking its five minutes of fame.

CORNISH: Now - so should this actually make us feel good about how far Google is taking our privacy concerns?

DOMONOSKE: Probably not. There was actually just this week a paper that came out from some researchers who suggested that it's possible to teach technology to, essentially, un-blur images. So, you know, we can make all the puns we like, but it doesn't really say anything profound about security on the internet today.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Camila Domonoske, reporter for The Two-Way blog.

Thanks so much.

DOMONOSKE: (Laughter) You're so welcome.

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