Google Maps has encountered a full-on roadkill scandal, and they're not taking this one, uh, lying down. After users spotted a Street View scene in Kweneng, Botswana, featuring a donkey that appeared to have been either knocked over or left helpless, the photo went viral and Google has offered a strong denial of any wrongdoing by its drivers: "Our Street View teams take the safety of people and donkeys very seriously," a Google spokesperson said, in one of the more absurd statements in Google history. The vocal company reaction may have something to do with social-media clamor — this picture has been tweeted over 1,000 times since it emerged yesterday:
And a couple more shots:
And one more:
As with most photographs, the important thing here is perspective. And depending how this donkey was snapped by one of the Google cars that roam the Earth with its 360-degree mounted camera, you could have two very different theories: if this a rear-facing camera, then it looks like a clear hit and run; if it's a front-facing camera, then it looks like the donkey was rolling around and got up in time as Google's driver-less car approached.
Google explained to Australia's News Limited's Claire Porter that it's the latter timeline of events, and that no animals were harmed in the filming of this street:
Google sent News.com.au internal Street View images but did not give permission for them to be published.
In the photos, the company allege that the Google Street View car approached the donkey which was already lying down, which then gets up and continues walking uninjured.
The Register, a British tech site, seemed to agree with Google's off-the-record timeline of photos and even expands the narrative, citing the good ole' dust bath :
The donkey-savvy among you will see that in this case at least, Google is probably in the clear. Reversing the order of the above snaps, it appears the animal in question was giving itself a good old dust bath until Street View's spymobile turned up, at which point it stood up and made good its escape
But Porter alleges that the internal Google images, which she wasn't allowed publish, don't quite make sense. Her take is a little bit confusing, but it hinges that the puff of dust next to the donkey is proof that the donkey may have been side-swiped. And Google isn't exactly innocent when it turns local fauna into roadkill — in 2009, a StreetView car encountered a baby deer, but in that case the images were pulled very quickly. For what it's worth, the donkey images are still accessible.
Update 6:16 p.m. We just spoke to a source at Google who confirmed that the donkey was unharmed and a forward-facing camera was used and that's how you should view the donkey encounter—basically the donkey was rolling around in the dust when the driverless car came upon it and then got up and out of the way.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.