Privacy group targets Google Street View U.K.

The driver's-eye view of British roadways and sidewalks causes "clear embarrassment and damage" to residents, Privacy International tells the U.K. government.

This story has been updated. See below for details.

Watchdog group Privacy International has filed a formal complaint with the U.K. government over the recent introduction of Google's Street View in Britain.

Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, argues that Street View has caused "clear embarrassment and damage" to many residents of the U.K., according to a BBC News report. The street-level feature of Google Maps, which debuted in the U.K. last week, provides a driver's-eye photographic record of urban landscapes, including storefronts and pedestrians.

The complaint was filed with the Information Commissioner's Office, which confirmed that the documents had been received, but declined to provide any details. Privacy International did not immediately respond to inquiries.

Street View should be "switched off" while the U.K. government investigates the matter, Davies said, according to the BBC. Privacy International is said to cite 200-plus reports of Street View making members of the public identifiable.

The Information Commissioner's Office worked with Google before Street View was launched in the U.K. and said that the Internet giant offered assurances that adequate safeguards would be put into place. In a statement provided Tuesday, the 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.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt told the BBC that the company agrees with privacy concerns. "The way we address it is by allowing people to opt out, literally to take anything we capture that is inappropriate out," he said in the BBC story, "and we do it as quickly as we possibly can."

In February, Google won a lawsuit in a U.S. court over a complaint by a Pittsburgh couple that Street View had violated their privacy .

Update 7:28 a.m. PDT: Privacy International has provided a copy of its filing with the ICO. The gist:

In summary, we believe on the basis of complaints received, that the service has created numerous instances of embarrassment and distress and that the promised privacy safeguards do not provide adequate protection to shield Street View from the general requirement to provide notice prior to collection of the data. We also believe that the technology has created substantial threat to a number of individuals and that the extent of intrusion into the homes of some complainants is unlawful. In such cases, Google should have acquired consent from individuals before images were captured.

Among the complaints cited by Privacy International:

• A woman who has for several years been moving house to avoid detection from a former violent partner complained to us that she felt extreme distress when Street View identified her outside her new home.

• Two men working for a large organization were identified by work colleagues in a situation which gave the appearance that they were kissing each other. This was not the case, but the image - subsequently widely circulated throughout the organization - has caused great humiliation to them and their (female) partners.

• A fifteen year-old boy was caught on Street View carrying a skateboard, which his parents had expressly forbade him from using. The boy subsequently had a row with the parents and is now staying with friends.

About the author

Jonathan Skillings is managing editor of CNET News, based in the Boston bureau. He's been with CNET since 2000, after a decade in tech journalism at the IDG News Service, PC Week, and an AS/400 magazine. He's also been a soldier and a schoolteacher, and will always be a die-hard fan of jazz, the brassier the better.

 

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