Although Google’s Street View service began with a great deal of publicity, complaints regarding certain offensive images have forced the organization to remove some photos.
Dozens of images have already been taken out of the UK Street View collection. It is thought the pictures removed contained revealing images of homes, a man entering a London sex shop, people being arrested and a man being sick.
One Google spokesperson explained that anyone who asks could have their images removed.
As for those photos that already have been deleted, Google’s Laura Scott said, "We've got millions of images, so the percentage removed was very small...We want this to be a useful tool, and it's people's right to have their image removed."
"The fact there are now gaps [in Street View] shows how responsive we are," Scott added.
Street View is now available in a total of nine countries. It first began in the U.S. in May 2007 and since has spread to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain and Italy. On Thursday, it was additionally launched in the Netherlands.
Imagery available through the service is taken along streets by customized camera cars. Camera cars in the UK, for example, have enabled their version to consist of 22,369 miles of UK streets and to include street scenes in 25 UK cities, from Aberdeen to Southampton. Some people, have managed to find themselves somewhere in the imagery containing these miles of streets.
People have also managed to find ways to view the removed offensive photos by moving up or down a notch on the street. A black image with the message "This image is no longer available" has replaced each offensive photo, but apparently this does not provide blockage at all different angles.
Dr. Ian Brown, a privacy expert at the Oxford Internet Institute, was not surprised that there were some offensive photos: "This is exactly what you would expect from a service that relies on individuals to help Google not make mistakes."
"They [Google] should have thought more carefully about how they designed the service to avoid exactly this sort of thing," Brown added.
Dr. Brown also said that Google could have taken images twice, on different days. This way, any offending images could have been easily replaced and could have also protected privacy better.
Google assures it has gone to great lengths to ensure privacy. Its face recognition technology, for example, blurs all faces and registration plates captured by the camera cars. Last year, the Information Commissioner’s office ruled that this blurring was sufficient in ensuring that privacy was upheld.
Google also says Street View only displays imagery that is already visible from public thoroughfares.
quote: Dr. Brown also said that Google could have taken images twice, on different days. This way, any offending images could have been easily replaced and could have also protected privacy better.