Concerned about a potential invasion of privacy from the roving, camera-mounted Google Street View cars? If you've been less than honest on your taxes, you may have another reason to worry.
The Wall Street Journal says that in Europe, Google Street View is becoming an increasingly popular tool among tax investigators. Street View helps them identify things that they previously missed with aerial photos, like undeclared houses and other property.
The newspaper relates the tale of one woman in Lithuania who was snapped by a Google car climbing into a hammock in the front yard of a house. The photo alerted tax authorities to the house's existence, as well as three cars nearby. And in the capital of Vilnius, Street View identified the undeclared house of a former bank chairman worth $260,000.
It's become quite useful for European governments, which are increasingly strapped for cash these days, the Journal reports.
Some European countries have been going after Google, complaining that the search giant is invading the privacy of their citizens. But tax inspectors here have turned to the prying eyes of Street View for their own purposes.
After Google's car-borne cameras were driven through the Vilnius area last year, the tax men in this small Baltic nation got busy. They have spent months combing through footage looking for unreported taxable wealth.
"We were very impressed," said Modestas Kaseliauskas, head of the State Tax Authority. "We realized that we could do more with less and in shorter time."
More than 100 people have been identified so far after investigators compared Street View images of about 500 properties with state property registries looking for undeclared construction.
Two recent cases netted $130,000 in taxes and penalties after investigators found houses photographed by Google that weren't on official maps.
Of course, it could be argued that these people should have been honest on their taxes in the first place. But if you aren't, you may want to make sure you get things in order before the Street View car drops by again.
Photo credit Stephen Rees