On Monday afternoon, two homeowners in the Lower Greenville West Neighborhood Association grew alarmed when they spotted a team of a half dozen or so guys who were snapping pictures and trespassing on private property. The homeowners were suspicious and called 911. Later, they sent out an email blast to neighbors, urging them to keep an eye out for the men.
They claimed to be from Google, produced one tattered business card that did not reach a business line, and claimed they were on public property. In fact, we caught them redhanded in [a resident's] back yard, inside the fence ... all over his yard. We kept them there asking questions and getting information in order to allow the DPD element time to arrive. By this time, two of them had gotten nervous and bolted.
They told the DPD officers a somewhat different story after the officers arrived.
The officers took their information, and told them to leave. But the intruders told us earlier that they intended to continue their survey "to the north."
So, they are likely headed into Vickery Place, LGNA, Greenland Hills....
Get the word out to your people. These guys were WAY inside [one neighbor]'s property, not just a little bit. It's not legit.
Turns out, it might have been. The same neighbor sent out a followup email a while later saying he had spoken with Daniel Sedor, an absurdly young-looking program manager with Google Maps, who gave few details about what the men were doing but confirmed that they were doing research for Google. From the neighborhood email:
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
He told me that he understood (and that he, too, lives in an urban neighborhood). He told me he was the decision maker for this project, and that the individuals that John and I saw were provided by a third-party staffing company. He apologized for their demeanor, and for their lack of ID, and agreed it was reasonable for us to be concerned. He said he would terminate the remainder of the survey in our area, and we would not see these individuals again in any of our immediate cluster of neighborhoods.
So, we really don't know just what it is they were actually doing ... which still gives me some concern. However, it appears to be nefarious more at the 35,000-foot privacy level, not the immediate level criminal concern.
Reached on his cell phone, Sedor said he's familiar with the situation but referred questions to the email for Google's press office. "I think our PR team has a prepared statement about that." And surely the statement will provide full detail about Google's coming advances in mapping technology.
Update at 12:24 p.m.: As expected, the statement was full of detail. "I can confirm that these were Google contractors who were testing our location services," said company spokesman Nathan Tyler, "location services" being Google speak for tracking exactly where you are. Tyler said he couldn't speak to the specifics of what happened off Lower Greenville.
Like we said, super-secret.