Google facing privacy flak over Street View New mapping tool will use photos of streets

09 July 2008

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Plans by Google to add photographs of British streets to its online maps could be referred to the UK’s privacy watchdog.

Google’s Street View matches 360-degree photographs of locations with the company's online maps.

It not only gives users the ability to see addresses and streets but also passers-by who were captured as the photograph was taken.

The service has already been launched in the US and the process of photographing streets in the UK is believed to have just got under way.

Data protection

But Privacy International, a UK rights group, thinks the technology could break data protection laws.

It believes that Google would need the consent of any person who appeared in one of the Street View photographs.

It’s now written to the company asking for more information about the system and is also threatening to ask the Information Commissioner for a suspension of the service in the UK.

Google said it works hard to make sure that its products respect privacy laws in each country in which they are launched.

Face-blurring

It has incorporated face-blurring technology in the US version of Street View and has also launched similar technology to blur vehicle licence plates.

A spokesperson added: ‘The technology isn't perfect - it will sometime miss a face or licence plate, for example if they are partially covered, or at a difficult angle - but we make it easy within the product for users to report a face or licence plate for extra blurring, or to ask for their image to be removed.

‘And of course, we'll keep working hard to make sure the product keeps improving. We think this type of privacy-enabling technology is the best way of meeting the challenge of continuing to respect people's expectation of privacy, while not stifling the development of new products and services that everyone can enjoy and benefit from.’

Potentially illegal

Which? technology editor Matthew Bath said: ‘Google does face a potential headache with the launch of Street View.

‘While taking photos of people in public is legal, reusing them for commercial gain – and Google is an advertising-based service – or showing a photo that would lead to substantial distress of the person in the photo is potentially illegal.

‘While Google says that it is going to great lengths to ensure that people can't be identified, and can be removed from a photo if they request it, the fact remains that many consumers may inadvertently end up captured in a Street View photo and displayed on the internet for all to see.’