Public urged to report Google Street view fears

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The Independent Online

People worried their privacy has been breached by Google's controversial new mapping service have been told to complain to the search engine or the information watchdog.

Scores of pictures, including one of a man exiting a Soho sex shop and another of a man being sick on the pavement outside a pub, were removed from Street View yesterday a day after it was launched in the UK

The application allows users to access 360-degree views of roads and homes in 25 cities and includes photographs of millions of residential addresses, people and cars.

Sophisticated technology has been developed to automatically obscure the faces of people featured in Street View photographs, and car registration plates have been blurred, but such efforts have failed to quieten critics, with many labelling the maps voyeuristic and intrusive.

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said: "It is Google's responsibility to ensure all vehicle registration marks and faces are satisfactorily blurred.

"Individuals who feel that an image does identify them (and are unhappy with this) should contact Google direct to get the image removed.

"Individuals who have raised concerns with Google about their image being included - and who do not think they have received a satisfactory response - can complain to the ICO."

A spokeswoman for Google could not confirm the exact number of images removed but said it had been "less than expected".

She added: "We take privacy very seriously which is why when we announced Street View for the UK we explained our easy-to-use removals process for images people found inappropriate - simply click 'report a concern' and report the image.

"Since launching, we have received very few removals requests.

"However, we're very pleased, where removals or further blurring has been requested, that the technology has been working so effectively and that most images have been removed within hours.

"Of course, we think that the vast majority of people around the UK will find Street View an incredibly useful new tool - whether it's to explore their own city in more detail, take a virtual field trip or simply learn a bit more about the history of our many great British cities."

At the bottom of each photograph featured on the application is a link which users can follow to "report a concern" to Google.

Individuals who do not wish to be featured in images or want their home to be taken off the database can register their objections by filling in an online form.

Ed Parsons, Google's geospatial technologist, said the ICO was consulted about privacy concerns, as was Scotland Yard.

He said: "Privacy is really important to us. We recognise that there have been concerns about that and we think we have addressed those concerns."

Street View images are taken from public roads, captured by a number of cars which have been driving around the UK since last summer.

The cars are continuing to photograph streets, which will enable Google to extend the service to cover more cities, Mr Parsons said.

Roads where Street View is currently available are highlighted on the standard Google map by a blue outline.

Panoramic images can be accessed by dragging an orange "pegman" icon - found on the left-hand side of the screen - across the page.

The technology, first launched in the US in 2007, is also available in the Netherlands, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain and Italy.