Richmond Father Begs Google to Remove Image of Son's Body

Categories: Law & Order, Tech

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Google Earth image of the crime scene with Kevin Barrera's body blurred out.
Four years have passed since Jose Barrera's son Kevin was found bludgeoned and fatally shot, by a stretch of railroad tracks outside Richmond's notorious Iron Triangle neighborhood.

Because of Google, Kevin's death remains frozen in time.

Last week Barrera saw a satellite image of his son's body that the company unwittingly captured and archived on Google Earth. The crime scene had long been cleaned up, and yet it still lingered on the Internet, at once a public spectacle and a grisly tableau. And it wasn't just haunting the Barrera family; the rest of the world could see it, too.

Barrera begged Google to take the image down, saying, in an interview with television station KTVU, that it was causing extreme emotional distress. "When I see these images, I feel like [it] happened yesterday," he told KTVU, adding that he may launch a formal complaint.

Most experts thought his chances were slim, even after the story hit newswires. Privacy attorney David Greene, who works at the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, says Google has no legal obligation to expunge the image. Given the sheer volume of take-down requests it receives each year (more than 100 million between January and July of 2013, according to the company's transparency reports) the search engine has little incentive to respond to each one individually, no matter how persuasive the plea.

But in this case, Google acquiesced. "Our hearts go out to the family of this young boy," Google Maps vice president Brian McClendon says in an official statement. "Since the media first contacted us about the image, we've been looking at different technical solutions. Google has never accelerated the replacement of updated satellite imagery from our maps before, but given the circumstances we wanted to make an exception in this case. We believe we can update this in eight days, and we've spoken to the family to let them know we're working hard on the update."

That doesn't mean the search giant will go on some kind of long hoped-for deletion spree and expunge other unfortunate images -- like the drunk dude passed out on a sidewalk in northern Australia, or a kid pointing a gun at another kid in Chicago. And don't expect any of those glorious public urination photos to disappear any time soon.

Yet at least we know that in one instance, the Silicon Valley tech giant had a heart.




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15 comments
Alex Rothwell
Alex Rothwell

Well, thank goodness they did that. They can't be that insensitive a Google.

Julia Mae Thies
Julia Mae Thies

I don't know if they should be "forced", but I'm glad they did out of common decency or pressure, whichever it was.

Michael Dane
Michael Dane

Not surprising as it took them 3 years to finally get a new "street view" of the alley behind my building in San Francisco when the old picture showed a man taking a dump. They had managed to blur his face . . . but not the :poop:

Ryan D. K. Brady
Ryan D. K. Brady

They probably didn't know? It's not like google has little googledrones poring over its satellite footage to make sure there is nothing untoward on it.

Robert la Bohème
Robert la Bohème

And, you know, SF Weekly, maybe you shouldn't be sharing it either. Just a thought.

Robert la Bohème
Robert la Bohème

Four years to remove it and they only do it now when this goes wide? This from the company whose motto is supposed to be "Don't be evil"?

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