Four years have passed since Jose Barrera's son Kevin was found bludgeoned and fatally shot, by a stretch of railroad tracks outside Richmond's notorious Iron Triangle neighborhood.
Because of Google, Kevin's death remains frozen in time.
Last week Barrera saw a satellite image of his son's body that the company unwittingly captured and archived on Google Earth. The crime scene had long been cleaned up, and yet it still lingered on the Internet, at once a public spectacle and a grisly tableau. And it wasn't just haunting the Barrera family; the rest of the world could see it, too.
Barrera begged Google to take the image down, saying, in an interview with television station KTVU, that it was causing extreme emotional distress. "When I see these images, I feel like [it] happened yesterday," he told KTVU, adding that he may launch a formal complaint.
Most experts thought his chances were slim, even after the story hit newswires. Privacy attorney David Greene, who works at the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, says Google has no legal obligation to expunge the image. Given the sheer volume of take-down requests it receives each year (more than 100 million between January and July of 2013, according to the company's transparency reports) the search engine has little incentive to respond to each one individually, no matter how persuasive the plea.
But in this case, Google acquiesced. "Our hearts go out to the family of this young boy," Google Maps vice president Brian McClendon says in an official statement. "Since the media first contacted us about the image, we've been looking at different technical solutions. Google has never accelerated the replacement of updated satellite imagery from our maps before, but given the circumstances we wanted to make an exception in this case. We believe we can update this in eight days, and we've spoken to the family to let them know we're working hard on the update."
That doesn't mean the search giant will go on some kind of long hoped-for deletion spree and expunge other unfortunate images -- like the drunk dude passed out on a sidewalk in northern Australia, or a kid pointing a gun at another kid in Chicago. And don't expect any of those glorious public urination photos to disappear any time soon.
Yet at least we know that in one instance, the Silicon Valley tech giant had a heart.