Monday, 6 April 2009

Google launches Street View despite privacy concerns

The controversial mapping service launched in the UK last month, allowing people to take a virtual tour through 25 British cities. In the face of fierce opposition from privacy campaigners, Google launched its controversial mapping service Street View, which offers users 360-degree views of selected cities across Britain. The search giant spent more than a year collecting images of Britain’s streets using cars fitted with special cameras. They came to Reading last week, I took the picture above. I'm looking forward to seing on street view the image of me taking this picture.

The service allows people to "walk" along a selected road at street level, from their computer or mobile phone. Hundreds of thousands of people have already used Street View to peek at the front doors of friends and family, and take a virtual tour of the streets of their city.

A village in Buckinghamshire called the police when they saw the Google Street View car A spate of burglaries in a Buckinghamshire village had already put residents on the alert for any suspicious vehicles, so when the Google Street View car trundled towards Broughton with a 360-degree camera on its roof, villagers sprang into action. Forming a human chain to stop it, they harangued the driver about the “invasion of privacy”, adding that the images that Google planned to put online could be used by burglars. Well congratulations people, now burglars around the world are aware that the residents of this village think they are worth the attention of burglars. I think they should be arrested for wasting police time, imagine calling the police every time you saw a strange car, you'd be very busy.

Find the weirdest sights on Google Street View UK

Google has taken longer than expected to launch the service, which is already available in seven other countries. Many people believed that the company was stalling in order to overcome the concerns of campaigners.

However, Google said that the launch was delayed by logistical difficulties. The poor British weather over the past few months wreaked havoc with Google's high-tech equipment, as their cameras are unable to take pictures in rain or snow. As a result, it has taken much longer than expected to compile the tens of millions of photos needed to launch the service.

Street View has already proved controversial. When it launched in the United States, there was uproar, as within hours bloggers posted images of people, their faces visible, being arrested, sunbathing and urinating in public. Taking into account the objections of many campaigners, Google has introduced technology which automatically blurs faces and car number plates. Google has also pledged to remove any images that viewers object to.

"We recognise that people do have some concerns in terms of privacy," said Google’s geospatial technologist Ed Parsons. "But this is the sort of level of detail you would get from driving down a road, the sort of picture you would see in an estate agent’s window." He said faces were blurred “99.9 per cent of the time,” but that “sometimes it does not work completely".

Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, argued that the company should have sought the consent of the communities it was photographing before launching the service. He vowed to fight the service until it was taken down. The Information Commissioner’s office was consulted by Google about its plans, and gave approval for the launch. Lawyers doubt any legal action could succeed. Google said that it will continue to update and expand the service, and will add more photos of more cities over the coming months.

Cities covered by Street View UK so far: London, Edinburgh, Leeds, Bradford, Cambridge, Cardiff, Belfast, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Oxford, Sheffield, Nottingham, Derby, Bristol, Coventry, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Swansea, York, Newcastle, Dundee, Southampton, Norwich and Scunthorpe.

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