If you’re only using Google Street View to find directions, you’re doing it all wrong.
When Google started the experimental Street View project in 2007, privacy concerns were raised revolving around the collection and display of images. Is it legal to photograph people without their consent? Is that man actually breaking into an apartment building in the middle of the day? While most of us laughed off the absurd findings on Street View, watchdog groups did not find anything humorous about the invasion of privacy. They waged a war against Google, and lost when it was proved that everything happening in public is fair game. In 2013, privacy activists celebrated a small victory when the company acknowledged to state officials that it had violated people’s privacy by collecting personal information from unsuspecting computer users.
Today, Google is still snapping pictures of people and places without anyone’s knowledge, and we’re still laughing at the bizarre and jaw dropping snapshots from around the world. And we’ve seen it all. Communities of pigeon people, dueling samurais, and possibly one of the members of Daft Punk hanging in the Scottish Highlands near Loch Ness territory. There have also been creepier findings, like skeletal remains, drifters spotted lurking in the middle of nowhere, and the occasional murder… happening in action. It’s no secret that we live in a mind-boggling world, but thanks to the Big G, we are regularly reminded that life in 360° panoramic vision can get real. A little too real. From murders to melting towns and naked people, here are the most insane Google Street finds and the wackier stories behind them.
15. The Google Street Murder Gets Debunked
Thanks to the armchair sleuths on Reddit, the curious case of Google Street View murderer has been debunked. In 2013, a Google Map image appeared to depict a couple of people dragging a body across a bloody pier. After a Redditor claimed that he had alerted the police about the crime scene near his home in Almere, Netherlands, the photo went viral. Despite the fact that there were no eyewitnesses or family members speaking out about the victim’s death, the report managed to grab all the headlines. But after intense scrutiny, and Photoshop skills, the community discovered that it wasn’t a crime scene at all. What looked like a body and a blood trail was actually a soaking dog trailing water behind him. The body? The dog’s walker and shadows of other people walking and bicycling up and down the walkway.
14. The Scuba Prank That Totally Spoofed Google
Never forget that the oddest Google Street photos are actually just people trolling the cameras. In the summer of 2010, two Norwegian men, Borre Erstad and Paul Age Olsen, received a tip that the Google Street View vehicles were in town, and they decided to play a little prank on the cameras. After pinpointing the car’s exact location, they set up an outdoor seating area, put on their scuba gear, grabbed a few pitchforks (you know, for good measure) and patiently waited for their moment. When it finally came, the men posed, chased the car wielding their pitchforks, and naturally made it onto the mapping service in 2011. After discovering that it was the butt of a joke, the image was promptly blurred out. But the hilarious moment still lives on in Google Street View trolling history.
13. There’s Not A Pigeon People Community In Japan
Sorry to bust your bubble. Despite this viral photo of what appears to be a squad of bird people, if you find yourself in Mitaka Station in Musashino, Tokyo, don’t expect to find the flock. As it turns out, the whole thing was set up by the writers of Japanese satire blog, Daily Portal Z. When they found out that Google’s Trekker—a lightweight back-pack version of the gear Google packs into its Street View cars—would be making its way through Tokyo, the writers jumped at the opportunity to troll Google and go viral. So, the DPZ team bought freaky looking pigeon masks and turned themselves into “human pigeons.” According to the editor of the blog, they wanted to be on Street View, but also wanted to be distinguishable without having their faces blurred. Mission accomplished.
12. This Is Actually Art
Artists Robin Hewlett and Ben Kinsley, teamed up with Google and staged a street parade on the narrow streets of Pittsburgh’s Sampsonia Way. The turn out? A collision of extremely Instagrammable moments like, friends throwing confetti over new husband and wife, a mini-marathon, a marching band, and other bizarre scenarios. The artists’ cameo on Google Maps was the subject of their art project, Street With a View, which later wound up in the Arlington Arts Center’s “Public/Private” exhibit. And it was all thanks to Google. Kinsley told The Washington Post that Google agreed to return to the street after already capturing it at the artist’s request. “There wasn’t any guarantee that what they shot would go live,” he said. But it did.
11. Students Troll Google Earth With Firefox
Google Maps is the butt of a lot of jokes, but the prank pulled by Oregon State University Linux Users—a group of self-described nerds in or around the University, dedicated to “teaching and advocating free and open source software on campus”—takes the cake. In less than 24 hours, the team took over 45,000 square feet and created a crop circle of FireFox to celebrate its 50 millionth download. It was a genius way to lock in free advertising, but here’s the shocker: Google was in cahoots the entire time. A website breaking down each and every step of the crop circle project notes that Google’s Chris DiBona managed to get the FireFox crop circle on Google Maps at an “accelerated schedule.” Google has kept the image of the crop circle, which can still be seen when zooming out.
10. No, He’s Not Actually Dead
This fake murder looks real enough to get the attention of police ASAP, but it actually took over a year for officials to discover the “murder” on Giles Street in Edinburgh. The real deal is that two mechanics and best friends decided to welcome Google Street to the block by faking an axe-murder in the middle of the street. According to Dan Thompson, owner of Tomson Motor Works in Edinburgh, the idea came after they spotted the car going down the road. “I had just enough time to whip in, grab Gary and a pick-ax handle and he came out to give me a so called ‘Leith massage,’ which is essentially being bashed.” Thompson explained that longtime Google employee Gary Kerr, was in on the prank, shot the photo and blurred out their faces to make it appear even more convincing. When the cops found the staged murder they laughed it off, and Google later removed the image.
9. A Kid Playing Dead Is Mistaken For A Dead Body
British Google users have been advocating against Street View since its debut. Needless to say, the community of Worcester was not pleased when a car mapping their streets captured what appeared to be a body lying face down inches away from the gutter. This time it wasn’t an insider prank, in fact, even Google was freaked out by the “dead body” that had residents fearing they had a murderer on the loose. Luckily for Worcester, the body belonged to Azura Beebeejaun, a very much alive ten-year-old who was caught “playing dead” with friends outside of her home in Middle Road. “I didn’t know anything about the Google Street View car (recording me).” She told the Daily Mail in an interview, “I fell over while I was playing with my friend and thought it would be funny to play dead.”
8. The Berlin “Birth” Photo Is Exposed As A Fake
Babies being born in the middle of the street? It’s an image straight out of viral internet heaven. And it’s fake. Just a few hundred feet from a hospital in the German suburb of Wilmersdorf, a Google Street View camera apparently caught a woman on her back, another person holding her newborn baby, and another man on the phone alerting calling an ambulance. It’s a wacky scene that spurred millions of shares and theories before Google Germany was forced to debunk the photo on Twitter. Surprisingly, the people behind the stunt never came forward and revealed their identities. Locals believe a group of German anonymous artists, who made their own Street View car months before the photo went viral, are behind the fake birth image.
7. An Optical Illusion Trips Up The Internet
A German man was pronounced dead by the internet after a Google Street View camera snapped a photo of him inside of his trunk. When the image first hit the interactive street map, users assumed it was a photo of a naked man stuffed in his trunk with his clothes, and dog remains scattered in his driveway. Turns out, we were wrong. While the internet spent days speculating over what happened to the mystery man, a Reddit user simply zoomed in on the photo and found out the real deal. The man wasn’t dead. He was just wearing tight, flesh-colored shorts while in his trunk fixing his brake light. The user even went as far as to pinpoint which model Mercedes the man owned, and discovered that on this model you can only change the light from inside of the trunk.
6. Google Discovers Secret Superhero Pub
In the remote coastal village of Shetland Isles in the UK, you’ll find quaint homes, fields, fishing boats and… a Justice League retirement party? That’s what it looked like when a group of men decked in superhero costumes were captured by a Street View driver outside of the Pierhead Restaurant & Bar in the village of Voe in the Shetland Isles. Can you imagine being that Street View driver, taking a serene drive surrounded by fields and pubs and then – bam! You stumble across the Incredible Hulk, Buzz Lightyear and Super Mario?! According to the bar’s manager it’s totally normal for guys to get together and celebrate a birthday in themed costumes, and then bar hop across the various drinking spots on the island.
5. (Fake) Dinosaurs In Costa Rica
Dinosaurs were first spotted in a Street View staged by the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis on the heels of its Dinosphere exhibit. A few months later, billionaire Clive Palmer set out to build a true-life Jurassic Park on a remote island off Costa Rica, and staged a fake Brachiosaurus party as a way to make a splashy example of his franchise idea. Palmer’s plan fell through, but months later the photos of sauropod dinosaurs frolicking in the fields wound up on Google Maps. Big mistake. Costa Rican officials argued that the island had been labeled a no-fly zone, and that Google had apparently taken photos illegally. Shortly after, Google took down the photo, but not before experts called out the interactive app for falling for the bait in the first place.
4. There Is No Devil Worship In Kazakhstan
Conspiracy theorists went wild when Google Earth captured an aerial image of what appeared to be a pentagram on the side of a desolate lake in northern Kazakhstan. What made the picture even creepier was the exact location: Bronze Age inhabitable settlements, untouched archaeological ruins, cemeteries and burial grounds are all over the land. Naturally, the internet was quick to assume that some nefarious devil worshipping was going on until archaeologist Emma Usmanova debunked the theory. “It is the outline of a park made in the form of a star,” Usmanova told LiveScience. According to Usmanova, stars were often used throughout the Soviet Union to decorate flags, buildings and in this case, parks. “The star in the lakeside park is marked by roadways that are now lined with trees,” Usmanova explained, which make the pentagram shape even more apparent in aerial photos.
3. A Teen Didn’t Discover A Lost Mayan Civilization
The Telegraph fell for a farfetched viral story and actually reported that a Canadian teenager found a lost Mayan city using Google Earth. In the report, the newspaper credited the 15-year-old for discovering the lost city hidden in the jungles of Mexico using a “method of matching stars to the location of temples on earth.” He then used maps to find the aerial photo of his findings. The story clearly grabbed a lot of headlines until archaeologists shut the whole thing down with scientific data proving that the teen found nothing but a lost cornfield. Thomas Garrison told Gizmodo that the “rectilinear nature of the feature and the secondary vegetation growing back within it are clear signs of a relic milpa. I’d guess it’s been fallow for 10-15 years. This is obvious to anyone that has spent any time at all in the Maya lowlands.” It was a good teen archaeologist effort, but not real.
2. YouTube Star, Horseman Uses Google Maps For Free Promo
In 2010, an unknown person popped on a horse mask and stalked the Google car while taking photos of the update in Aberdeen, Scotland. He appeared again in 2014, only this time he was having an outdoor tea party with an imaginary friend. The internet went wild in an attempt to track down the man behind the mask, with several fake Horseman wannabes trying to pass as the viral star. In the end, the identity of the man behind the mask was never revealed, but it has been confirmed that he’s an art student with a viral YouTube series about a real life half-man, half-horse. Like so many other epic Google Maps trolls, this was part of an attempt to build up promotion for the Horseman YouTube series.
1. Germany Wins Battle Against Street View
Germany’s relationship with Google Street View has been complicated from the very start, so it’s no surprise that the company removed its vehicles from Germany in 2013, after three years of sabotaged photos in the streets of Berlin. In 2010, the German Free Art and Technology collective made it clear that they weren’t going down without a fight when they hid a GPS device on a Google Street View car and stalked the cameras. The group would then do anything in their power to ruin Google’s snapshot – middle fingers, flashmobs, crazy hoaxes like, birthing a baby. For their most famous and elaborate hoax, the group rallied a massive group of people on Facebook, tracked down the Google car’s whereabouts, ran up the vehicle and flashed the Street View camera. Burn.