Thai Villagers Mistake Google Mapper for Government Spy

They weren't convinced otherwise until the driver swore in front of a Buddha statue that he works for the technology empire

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Tobias Schwarz / Reuters

Turns out there are still a few corners of the earth where Google’s Street View cameras aren’t just unwelcome, they’re also unheard of. Earlier this month, Thai villagers in the northern province of Phrae detained a Google driver who was recording images for Google’s online maps. The villagers weren’t upset about Google’s privacy policy, however; instead, they mistook him for a government worker surveying the area for an unwanted dam project.

A local paper reported last week that some 20 residents of Ban Sa-iap village — located about 385 miles north of Bangkok — surrounded the driver’s car, escorted him to a local office for interrogation, then brought him to Wat Don Chai, where they made him swear on a statute of Buddha that he was not a spy for the dam project, according to the Associated Press. Eventually, the driver convinced the disgruntled crowd that he was not behind the controversial dam.

News website the Prachatai reported that the villagers released the Google employee and later apologized for the mistake. This is not the first time Google has run into trouble with its Street View initiative, which also picks up Wi-fi signals. In June Britain’s data regulator threatened court action if the company did not erase personal data it received while recording for the project. 

Thailand is the 35th addition nation to be photographed for Google’s Street View.

MORE: Google Says Those Who Email Gmail Users Have ‘No Legitimate Expectation of Privacy’


This community has been fighting to stop the Kaeng Sue Ten proposed dam project which will catastrophically impact thousands of house holds and an adequate Environmental Impact Assessment never been conducted. I have visited this community several times and I received a very warm welcome,the villagers are very friendly and treated me like their son.  Not only Google that run in to this trouble but also any new comers regarding government officials, journalist, students, researchers, tourists need to inform the community leader and village committee to get permission to enter to the community area in order to protect their community from the dam project developer. Imagine that if you bring a camera enter to the Google office and take photos with no prior informed consent, will Google allow you to do that? Please do understand this situation profoundly because villagers are facing problems for two decades. No place like home, no one want to lose their livelihood. Thanks Time for bringing up this issue.