In Brief

Google Maps blurs graffiti attacking Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hong Kong

Tech giant blames algorithm error for obscuring pro-democracy messages on Street View

Google is facing criticism for blurring out graffiti sprayed by pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong in the most recent update of Google Maps.

China’s imposition of of draconian security laws in the city state sparked a wave of unrest earlier this year, with activists spray-painting a series of slogans in the streets.

But while much of the graffiti is still visible at the sites, the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reports that at least two slogans have been blurred out on Google Maps Street View.

One of the obscured messages says that China’s President “Xi Jinping must die for the sake of the world”, while the other reads: “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time” - a protest slogan that the authorities have since banned under the controversial new national security laws.

The banned line is from the protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong, which schools in the city are also barred from playing, singing or broadcasting.

Quartz reports that both of the slogans blurred out on Street Views “are revealed if viewed from a distance” further away on the map.

Google claims that the blurring of the images was not intentional, but rather the result of an algorithmic issue.

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

The Next Web says that “in Google‘s defence, 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,” the tech news site adds.

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