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Residents in Google Street View ‘privacy protest’

Local villagers aim to block street view car

Google Street View

Google Street View

Local villagers took on the might of search engine giant Google, by staging a protest against a Google Street View car aiming to take photographs of their homes.

Pictures taken by cars such as these appear online on Google’s controversial Street View service, which means that anyone with an internet connection can view individual streets and houses.

Police were called to affluent Broughton, near Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, after residents staged the protest, complaining the procedure was an invasion of their privacy.

Google maps out streets

The controversial mapping service gives 360-degree views of roads and homes from footage taken by a camera mounted on a car.

Paul Jacobs said he leapt into action after seeing the vehicle driving by his home on Wednesday. He told The Times: ‘I was upstairs when I spotted the camera car driving down the lane.’

‘My immediate reaction was anger: how dare anyone take a photograph of my home without my consent. I ran outside to flag the car down and told the driver he was not only invading our privacy but also facilitating crime.’

‘This is an affluent area. We’ve already had three burglaries locally in the past six weeks. If our houses are plastered all over Google it’s an invitation for more criminals to strike. I was determined to make a stand, so I called the police.’

Google Street View

Street View uses sophisticated technology to obscure the faces of people featured in photographs, and car registration plates have been blurred, but many people have labelled the maps voyeuristic and intrusive.

Scores of pictures, including one of a man leaving a Soho sex shop and another of a man being sick on a pavement outside a pub, have been removed.

A spokeswoman for Thames Valley Police said: ‘A squad car was sent to Broughton at 10.20am on Wednesday to reports of a dispute between a crowd of people and a Google Street View contractor.

‘A member of the public had called us to report that he, along with a number of others, were standing in the middle of the road preventing the car from moving forwards and taking photographs.

‘They felt his presence was an intrusion of their privacy. When police arrived at the scene, the car had moved on.’

Google’s privacy process

A Google spokesman said: ‘Embarking on new projects, we sometimes encounter unexpected challenges, and Street View has been no exception.

‘We know that some people are uncomfortable with images of their houses or cars being included in the product, which is why we provide an easy way to request removal of imagery. Most imagery requests are processed within hours.’

The spokesman added: ‘We take privacy very seriously, and we were careful to ensure that all images in our Street View service abide by UK law.

‘Street View only features imagery taken on public property. This imagery is no different from what any person can readily capture or see walking down the street.

‘Imagery of this kind is available in a wide variety of formats for cities all around the world.

‘Before launching Street View we sought the guidance and approval of the Information Commissioner’s Office. The ICO has repeatedly made clear that it believes that Street View includes the safeguards necessary to protect people’s privacy.

‘We also consulted with various police forces, including the Metropolitan Police, about the security concerns around Street View.

‘The Metropolitan Police told us they saw no appreciable security risk, that burglars are opportunistic, and that mapping products can be useful in solving and mapping crime in an area.’

© 2009 The Press Association

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