“I see dead people,” Haley Joel Osment’s character famously declared in the 1999 movie The Sixth Sense. Now, 20 years later, users of Google Street View are quoting Osment; they also see dead people—dead people they know and are often related to—captured forever (or at least for the time being) on Google Maps.
Heartwarming? Creepy? Heartwarming and creepy?
First, let’s backtrack. Google Street View was launched in 2007, and the premise was to map the world.
Spoiler alert: the world is a big place—so some neighborhoods or areas only get mapped once. A Google car drives through areas and captures panoramic photos that are then stitched together. So whatever is captured when the Google Street View car roams through a particular area is often cemented into Street View’s pictorial history—a time capsule of that particular instance, an Henri Cartier-Bresson decisive Google map moment, if you will.
In 2008, Google added face-blurring technology, which uses a computer algorithm to search Google’s image database for faces and blurs them out. So any person captured on Google Street View has a blurry face.
Sometimes people wave at the Google Street View car as it drives by. And sometimes these waving people, after being photographed, end up passing away. (Not because they were photographed.) Thus, there’s been numerous instances of people encountering their deceased loved ones in these street view images, complete with blurry faces.
And then, you get an awkward situation such as this, in which a Google Maps users sees her dead, blurry-faced grandpa and tweets: “My grandpa passed away a few years ago. We didn’t get to say goodbye to him. Yesterday we found out google maps finally drove through his farm and as we were curious going through it, where the road ends, there is my grandpa, just sitting there.”
This particular tweet was the catalyst for people to clock onto Google Maps and look up the addresses of deceased people they knew—parents, grandparents, friends, enemies (you get the idea)… And some of these deceased people have been embedded within Google Maps for years, unbeknownst, until now, to their loved ones.
Their findings were shared in a Twitter thread. And as the thread confirmed, people were spotting dead relatives everywhere. (Buzzfeed archived the greatest hits package of this.)
The Twitter thread contained not just one or two people making these post-death Google map sightings but dozens and dozens. Loved ones were spotted washing cars, sitting on porches, waving, not waving, not sitting on porches, walking, etc.
And the inclusion of Google’s blurry-face technology adds a ghoulish, haunting quality to the whole affair.
And it wasn’t limited to just deceased friends and family; deceased pets were spotted as well (and the pet faces weren’t blurred).
It’s kind of haunting. And the conclusion? Dead people are sometimes captured on Google Street View, and grandparents/pets don’t live forever.
In the past, Google Map users have speculated that they’ve captured murders in progress, which launched a tsunami of conspiracy theories on Reddit.
In 2019, Google Earth helped solve a 22-year-old missing man case, when a car was spotted beneath the surface of
Google provides a map of upcoming locations where the Street View car will be taking photographs. Does this mean you now have a chance to immortalize your family pet on Google Maps—or is just the thought too macabre?
Again, there is also a weird Big Brother aspect to all this; none of these people had the choice to opt out of being photographed by Google and, you know, potentially disturbing relatives in the years to come.
But that’s what happens when a huge tech company wants to photograph the entire planet—and no one, living or dead, has a choice.