Privacy watchdogs in the United Kingdom want to close down Google Street View, only days after the service was launched in the country. Google has already received hundreds of requests to take down photos of various areas in the U.K. and could even face legal actions.
Launched on March 19, Google Street View U.K. brings 360-degree views of roads and homes from 25 British towns and cities. Just like the popular U.S. version of the service, Street View U.K. includes photographs of millions of residential houses, cars, and people.
Although Google blurs most faces of people and car registration plates in Street View photographs, the U.K.'s Privacy International group, a self-confessed "watchdog on surveillance and privacy invasions by governments and corporations" has publicly filed a complaint with the country's Information Commissioner.
"We're asking for the system to be switched off while an investigation is completed," said Privacy International director Simon Davies. The group claims that a number of people are still identifiable through the Street View service and is now lobbying the Information Commissioner (ICO) to shut down the service until Google sorts out the privacy-related issues.
Since the launch of Street View U.K. last week, Google said that it will remove or blur images of homes if homeowners fill in a form on the service's Web site. However, many controversial images have surfaced (and are now removed) on Street View U.K., including shots of a man emerging from a London sex shop, a group of people being arrested, and images of naked toddlers while on a family picnic in the country's capital.
Privacy International, based in London, includes academics and lawyers. The group claims that it has received over 200 complaints from people whose faces were not obscured from Google Street View U.K. One complaint was from a woman who said she fled a violent partner, and a picture of her in front of her new home was visible on Street View.
Google was given permission by the ICO in July 2008 to launch Street View U.K., as the company assured that all faces and registrations plates would be blurred. The ICO said it was Google's responsibility that these elements would be removed and redirected individuals concerned about their privacy to ask the company to remove them.
Although the U.K. has no set privacy laws and only the country's Information Commissioner can make a decision, Street View is now also facing threats of legal action in Germany, as the country has strong privacy safeguards.