UK Villagers Block Google Street View Car

Google Street View met resistance from a group of villagers in southern England, who formed a human chain to block a car shooting images for the online mapping tool

Google Maps and its Street View feature, in which users can see a locale at eye level, has met unexpected resistance from group of British villagers who formed a human chain to turn away a car shooting images for Street View.

The minor disagreement over online privacy issues arose last week in Broughton, a hamlet in Southern England that was already on alert for “suspicious activity” after a recent spate of burglaries, according to the London Times Website.

Then came the Google Street View car, specially equipped with a revolving camera for snapping 360 degrees’ worth of quaint English village.

It was greeted not with open arms, but with locked hands, as enraged villagers who spied the vehicle formed a human chain to block its progress.

“They felt his presence was an intrusion of their privacy,” the Thames Valley Police told The Associated Press, adding that the Google contractor had driven off by the time the local constabulary arrived.

The Associated Press article quoted Broughton villagers and officials of a German town where similar issues arose as being concerned that Google Street View would lead to an increase in robberies, allowing criminals to scope out potential properties to hit.

Google spokesperson Elaine Filadelfo wrote in an e-mail to eWEEK that the response to Street View has been positive, but the company recognises that the technology does make some people uncomfortable. Street View has a “report a concern” feature where users can request that information be removed, she said.

“Overall, I’d say that Street View has had a warm reaction around the U.S.,” Filadelfo wrote in the e-mail. “In fact, we get quite a few requests from residents asking us to come to their town—and even volunteering to drive! That being said, we do recognise that some people are uncomfortable with the imagery, even though it is lawful and the same thing anyone would see or capture walking down the street, so we provide a tool that allows users to request the removal of an image.”

Google’s data-collecting services have seen some criticism of late. Its new interest-based advertising, a variant of “behavioral targeting” that increases advertisers’ chances of success by displaying ads based on users’ previous searches and page views, drew the ire of privacy advocates who felt Google was collecting too much user data.

Google responded to the criticism by noting that users have granular control over the cookies used by the new ad system.

On 18 March, the Electronic Privacy Information Center petitioned the FTC to investigate the safeguards employed by Google for its cloud-computing services’ security and privacy, asking the federal oversight group to bar Google from offering Google Apps until adequate security and privacy could be installed.

Google insisted in that circumstance that its security and privacy levels were more than adequate.