LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s privacy watchdog has rejected calls to shut down Google’s “Street View” service after complaints it was intrusive.
Google launched Street View UK in March, allowing users to navigate around a 360-degree view of streets in 25 cities, including buildings, traffic and people, using pictures taken by Google’s camera vehicles.
It promised to obscure images of pedestrians or car licence plates but some slipped through.
Web users found a number of embarrassing images including a man walking out of a sex shop and another being sick outside a pub.
Newspapers reported a woman had filed for divorce after her husband’s car appeared on Street View parked outside another woman’s house, while residents of one affluent village tried to block the cameras, claiming the service would allow would-be burglars to peruse their houses at leisure.
Campaign group Privacy International complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
However the ICO ruled common sense had to prevail and that removing the entire service would be “disproportionate to the relatively small risk of privacy detriment.”
David Evans, Senior Data Protection Practice Manager at the ICO, said Google had to ensure that it responded to any requests for images to be deleted or blurred.
“Google Street View does not contravene the Data Protection Act and, in any case, it is not in the public interest to turn the digital clock back,” Evans said in a statement.
“In a world where many people tweet, Facebook and blog it is important to take a common sense approach towards Street View and the relatively limited privacy intrusion it may cause.”
He said there was no law to stop anyone taking pictures of people in the street, providing they were not harassing them, while members of the public appeared every day on TV reports.
“Some football fans’ faces will be captured on Match of the Day and local news programmes this weekend -- without their consent, but perfectly legally,” he said.
Google has promised to address people’s privacy concerns and said if they complained, the image would be removed or blacked out in “almost all cases.”
The 360-degree street-level view gives Web users the experience of walking down the road and being able to look around from side to side to see the cityscape in any particular direction.
Since its original introduction in 2007 in San Francisco, Google has introduced the Street Views features as part of its Google Maps service for 100 cities in nine countries.
Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison