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Privacy Group Wants Google Maps Feature Shut Down in Britain

This story was written by Joseph Tartakoff.
The fury in the UK over the Google's effort to introduce its Street View feature to Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Maps continues to escalate. The latest twist: A privacy group has filed a formal complaint with the British Information Commissioner, asking that the service be shut down pending an investigation, because it says more than 200 people could be identified in the street-view images.

Privacy International says that Google's privacy safeguards, which include the automatic blurring of faces in Street View photos, haven't worked well enough. The group details a number of instances in which people's privacy was violated, including one in which a man smoking a cigarette was recognized by a partner, causing "distress and dysfunction in the relationship as the man in question had not disclosed to his partner that he enjoyed the occasional cigarette." In another, a woman was captured leaning out of her lounge-room window in the company of a man. The woman's husband discovered the image and confronted his wife. It turned out that the man was a contractor, and the woman was discussing a quote for exterior painting work. The argument was swiftly resolved, but the couple is still extremely distressed about the situation, according to the complaint. In a third instance, a 15-year-old boy was caught carrying a skateboard, which his parents had expressly forbade him from using.

The complaint follows a weekend of embarrassment in the British press for Google since Street View launched last Thursday. The Independent newspaper found an image of a naked toddler on Street View Sunday, raising safety concerns. Another paper noted that Tony Blair's London home as well as various government buildings did not show up in Street View, which it implied was a double standard.

In an interview with the BBC Tuesday, Google CEO Eric Schmidt responded to the complaints:

"The way we address it is by allowing people to opt out, literally to take anything we capture that is inappropriate out, and we do it as quickly as we possibly can. We are getting controversy over Street View because it is so successful. It turns out that people love to see what is going on in their local community."

Schmidt might have a point. Traffic on Google Maps UK jumped 41 percent the day after Google Street View was launched, according to Hitwise.

By Joseph Tartakoff

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