Street Art That Steals Back From Google Maps

Paolo Cirio creates real-life replicas of people captured by Google’s Street View cars, then pastes them into the locations they were photographed.

Since it launched in 2009, Google Street View has captured tens of millions of photos and covered 5 million miles. The Street View car’s all-seeing 15-lens camera has also photographed thousands of unwitting bystanders, turning them into blurry-faced witnesses to the Google Maps universe.


With a new project called Street Ghosts, net-artist Paolo Cirio is reversing that process. The Italian artist prints images of people he finds in Street View, then visits the precise spot they were captured by the Street View car. Using wheat paste, he glues their life-sized likenesses to where they appear on Google Maps, creating an ephemeral feedback loop between the on- and offline world.

By practicing what Google preaches, Cirio wants to draw attention to unanswered questions about Google user privacy. “I took the pictures of individuals without Google’s permission and posted them on public walls,” the 32-year-old artist writes in a statement. “By remixing and reusing this material, I explore the boundaries of ownership and exposure of this publicly displayed, privately-held information about our personal lives.” He calls his subjects “casualties of the info-war in the city,” evidence of collateral damage in “the battle between corporations, governments, civilians, and algorithms.”

Street Ghosts was funded by a residency at New York’s Eyebeam Center this September. But dozens of the “ghosts” are appearing on walls in Berlin and London, too, and Cirio tells Co.Design he plans to continue expanding the project. Residents of Brooklyn should look out for their own ghosts later this week, while Parisians will get their series over the next few months. You can even suggest a location on the website, where he keeps an interactive database of all known ghosts.

This isn’t the first time Cirio has examined Google through art. In 2005, he launched a performance called Google Will Eat Itself, in which he hosted dozens of Google Ads on a network of “hidden” websites. Then, he used the proceeds to buy Google stock, ultimately distributing the shares to the public. “By establishing this auto-cannibalistic model we deconstructed the new global advertising mechanisms,” he explains, calling out Google for their “monopoly” on information.

[H/T The Verge]

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.