Crack deal on Google Streetview?

by Mathew on March 27, 2008

It has yet to make its way to Canada (although the cars have been spotted, and there has already been controversy over privacy laws) but in many U.S. cities, Google’s “Streetview” service provides high-resolution photos of the street when you select a location on Google Maps. A whole subculture has emerged on the Web since the service went live, of people trading and commenting on photos of people sunbathing nude, words carved into cornfields and so on.

This week, a series of photographs showed up on several sites that appeared to show two men engaging in a drug deal on the streets of Chicago. Although the photos have since been removed from Google’s database, there are still plenty of versions of them available on the Web. But do they actually show a drug deal? There’s a black man in a baseball cap, large white T-shirt and baggy jeans bending over into the window of a car, with what appears to be cash or a small package in his hand — but does that mean it’s a drug deal?

Some commenters at Gawker and elsewhere argued that to assume it was a drug deal was an overtly racist response. Others, however — including some Chicago residents — were more than happy to chime in that the area was a well-known drug neighbourhood, and in one case a commenter said that she had bought drugs at that exact location before. Another said that he was “robbed at gunpoint while trying to buy pot” at the same spot. And Gawker editor Nick Denton pointed to a local site with crime statistics for the area that seemed to back up the drug-deal explanation.

Just one troubling point, as more than one commenter noted: the Google Streetview photos are taken by a car — in most cases a Volkswagen Beetle — with a 360-degree camera mounted on a tripod on the roof. If the other men near the car were (as some argued) keeping an eye out for cops, how could they not notice a Beetle driving by with a gigantic camera strapped to its roof? Whoever the dealer is, he needs some new lookouts.

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