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Google Street View OK'd In U.K.

Google Street View has been given approval to drive on the other side of the street on the other side of the pond.

The company's controversial photo-mapping tool has gotten the green light from the U.K.'s privacy watchdog group. Street View uses special vehicles with panoramic cameras to snap pictures of streets. It then uses the digital images as part of its online mapping service, so that people can see what locations look like.

Privacy groups in the U.K. have criticized the tool, saying it could violate privacy and data protection laws. These privacy advocates have been worried that people or other identifying markers, such as vehicle license plates, could be used to identify and track individuals in the Google pictures.

But the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), an independent agency in the U.K. that is charged with helping protect personal information, said it is "satisfied" that Google has enough safeguards in the tool to prevent it from harming anyone's privacy, the BBC reported Thursday.

Specifically, the ICO said in a statement that it believes safeguards such as blurring faces and license plates on cars is enough to allay fears about breaching privacy.

"Although it is possible that in certain limited circumstances an image may allow the identification of an individual, it is clear that Google (is) keen to capture images of streets and not individuals," the agency said in a statement.

Google first launched Street View in mid-2007 in the U.S. It immediately faced criticism from privacy advocates in the U.S. and abroad.

A husband and wife in Pittsburgh are suing Google for showing an image of their house, which is accessed only by a private road.

Google maintains its position that the photos are not an invasion of privacy. The company even provides people with an option to flag photos for removal that they deem inappropriate.

Despite the privacy concerns, Google has managed to expand the Street View service throughout the world. And it was used to track the Tour de France earlier this month. The BBC reported that Google's Street View cars have been spotted throughout the U.K. snapping pictures, but the company hasn't said yet when it will add the photos to its mapping service in that country.

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