Google forced to pull UK Street View images

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Google forced to pull UK Street View images

Google has already had to pull images from its Google Maps Street View tool launched in the UK Thursday, after a number of early testers registered privacy complaints with the service, identifying images of themselves captured in the photos.

The tool, available for 25 UK cities, gives users a 360 degree view of particular streets through merging photos collected by Google drivers using car-mounted cameras.

Images taken down so far include a man vomiting in Shoreditch and another man outside a Soho sex shop.

Replacing them is now a message that reads "This image is no longer available".

According to reports, Google has said the number of images removed has been "less than expected".

"The tools are there for users to remove pictures they are not happy with," a Google spokesman told The Independent.

But concerns over Street View are not new. Before the tool was launched in the UK, a number of privacy experts had queried the service, including UK rights group Privacy International’s Simon Davis, who believed Street View would break data protection laws.

“The idea that a commercial organisation could turn public images into profit is something that was not envisioned by the law," he said last July.

But the reason Street View could launch in the UK was because the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), after discussing the system with Google, was satisfied it did not breach the Data Protection Act.

The ICO said before the launch that "Google is keen to capture images of streets and not individuals" and that the all clear had been given because the company had promised to blur number plates and faces to protect privacy.

However because users are now finding it easy to identify themselves, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has promised to investigate complaints and Privacy International has again put forward its case.

"These images are being captured without people's permission for commercial user, and we believe that it is not legally acceptable," Davis told The Telegraph. "They are also putting into place a system for updating these images in the future, and for storing the images digitally where they could be misused, " he said.

Google is still dealing with privacy cases in the US concerning Street View where it was launched in early 2007.

Last year, a high profile legal case erupted when a US Pennsylvania couple sued Google for trespass and invasion of privacy, after the firm took pictures of their drive which was marked with 'Private Road' and 'No Trespassing' signs.

The couple said that the pictures had caused their home to diminish in value by US$25,000, but the US court ruled in Google's favour.

Street View is also available in the Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Google and the ICO could not immediately be reached for comment.

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