Glitch Cities: Buildings Mysteriously Deleted from Chinese ‘Street View’

All kinds of architecture is being inexplicably erased from the Baidu Total View image database (analogous to Google Street View) … and whoever is behind it is doing an oddly haphazard job of removing things.

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Freelance photographer Jonathan Browning encountered this mystery a few years ago. He was searching for locations on Total View and discovered a half-erased bridge near some sooty factories and industrial complexes.


A resident of Shanghai, Browning dug deeper and found government buildings, prisons and other municipal infrastructure. These semi-deleted structures were all over, partially hidden in hundreds of Chinese cities viewed by hundreds of millions of monthly Total View users.

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In some cases, the partial deletions seem intentional – a building might remain with its sign and smoke stacks gone. In other instances, at least some attempt has been made to erase the entire structure. Often, aftereffects of cloning tools and other basic Photoshop-style manipulations are easy to spot in the picture. Since some of these structures are high, many of them have to be edited in dozens of surrounding views, too. Even normal-sized, street-facing buildings often show up in a few different shots.

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Like Google Street view, the images found on Baidu are assembled from shots taken from cars (or persons) with mounted cameras. Also like their international counterpart, Total View removes some sensitive details, but the removals in this case don’t add up in terms of privacy or national security. If anything, they leave traces and thus highlight areas that people like Browning might find worth exploring.

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Of course, Browning had to be careful when driving around and photographing places that someone (corporate or governmental) had decided shouldn’t be on publicly-accessible image maps. In the end, no one seems quite sure what these attempted deletions are all about, and the Chinese government, as usual, isn’t saying a thing (via BldgBlog and Wired).