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This article was published on September 8, 2020

Google blames faulty algorithm for blurring Hong Kong protest graffiti on Street View

A banned political slogan and a call for the death of Xi Jinping have been obfuscated on the service

Google blames faulty algorithm for blurring Hong Kong protest graffiti on Street View Image by: K.rol2007
Thomas Macaulay
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Thomas Macaulay

Writer at Neural by TNW Writer at Neural by TNW

Google has blamed an algorithmic error for blurring out protest graffiti on the Street View map of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reports.

The news site reported yesterday that two spray-painted slogans on Nathan Road, the main thoroughfare in the urban area of Kowloon, had been obfuscated on Google Street View, which was updated in Hong Kong last year.

According to HKFP, one read “Xi Jinping must die for the sake of the world,” while the other said “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.” However, both of the messages could be visible when viewed from further down the road.

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TNW confirmed that the messages remained blurred from certain views today, although we’ve had to rely on HKPF for the translation.

Credit: Google
Left: The slogan “Xi Jinping must die for the sake of the world” is blurred. Right: The graffiti becomes clear when viewed from further down Nathan Road.
Credit: Google
The slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time” was banned in July by Hong Kong’s city government due to its separatist connotations.

Google said the blurring wasn’t intentional, but merely the result of an algorithmic flaw.

“Our automatic blurring technology aims to blur faces and license plates so they can’t be identified, but it looks like we didn’t get it right in this instance,” a representative for the Big G told HKFP in an email.

[Read: We asked 3 CEOs what tech trends will dominate post-COVID]

In Google’s defense, the vast majority of protest graffiti in Hong Kong remains visible on Street View, and the service’s algorithm often inadvertently blurs street signs. But the reports of it obfuscating political slogans will further fears that western tech firms are bowing to Beijing’s censorship demands.

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