New Street View Images Raise Privacy Concerns


Google has received complaints since it expanded its Street View service last week to cover 96 percent of UK roads

Google has been hit with another wave of complaints about Street View, after the virtual mapping service was expanded last week to cover “almost all” of the roads in the UK.

On 11 March Google extended its Street View feature to provide 360 degree images of 96 percent of the public roads and thoroughfares in the UK – from Cornwall to the Shetlands. The extension of the service was trumpeted by Google, which claimed it “takes mapping to a level not possible before,” but many people in the UK regard the service as invasive.

The battle of Broughton

In April last year, villagers in Broughton in Buckinghamshire formed a human chain to prevent a car shooting images for Street View from driving down the London Road – a cul-de-sac in the village near Milton Keynes. “They felt his presence was an intrusion of their privacy,” the Thames Valley Police told The Associated Press.

When the service went live in the Broughton area on Thursday, the villagers thought they had won a famous victory, as images of London Road were not included. Internet users who searched for the street were greeted with the message: “This image is no longer available.”

However, by the evening of the same day, images of the street had appeared on the site, with Google blaming a “technical glitch” for the previous omissions.

“The fact is they should have asked or at least let people know that they were photographing their houses,” said Edward Butler-Ellis, a Conservative councillor for Milton Keynes, speaking to The Telegraph. “What really gets me is people have to opt out of being on it when they should have to opt in. A lot of older people without the Internet are unaware that they are able to opt out of this.”

A target for paedophiles?

The Daily Mail also reported over the weekend that Google was forced to apologise after its Street View service showed an image of a naked child on a family day out. The photos, which showed a woman helping to dress the child with a man looking on, have sparked fears over the potential of the site to become a target for paedophiles.

“Where there’s one example like this, there will be many others,” Alex Deane of Big Brother Watch told the paper. Google stressed that there are online tools so users can report inappropriate images immediately.

A service for burglars?

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A recent survey of 1,317 people by discount website MyVoucherCodes has found that only 34 percent of those surveyed consider Google’s Street View service a “positive” move, with the remainder admitting they consider it an intrusion. Meanwhile, nearly a quarter said they believed it was simply “a service for burglars”.

“The service isn’t for everybody, and I think the main issue is that people feel they’ve had no consultation, despite the fact that many of the images clearly show people,” said Mark Pearson, Managing Director of MyVoucherCodes. “In honesty, whilst I can appreciate this, it’s unfeasible to expect a company to gain the permission of every single person in the UK.”

Of those polled, 73 percent of the people that called the service an intrusion said they were most angered by the fact they had not given permission for the publishing of images.

Earlier this month the EU decided to crack down on Google’s Street View practices, demanding that Google provides people with advance notice of when its Street View vehicles will be roving the streets, It also specified that these images should be deleted after six months.

Google responded that its current retention period of one year is necessary to maintain the quality of the Street View service. “The need to retain the unblurred images is legitimate and justified – to ensure the quality and accuracy of our maps, to improve our ability to rectify mistakes in blurring, as well as to use the data we have collected to build better maps products for our users,” Google said in a statement sent to eWEEK.

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