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Google pulls some street images

20 March 09 13:46 GMT

Google has removed dozens of photos from its new UK Street View service.

The street-mapping facility launched amid a fanfare of publicity but now the firm has been forced to pull some of the images after complaints.

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.

A spokesperson for Google told the BBC that anyone could have their images removed if they asked.

"We've got millions of images, so the percentage removed was very small," Google's Laura Scott told the BBC.

"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," she added.

Street View first launched in the United States in May 2007 and is already available in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain and Italy.

The Netherlands version of the service also launched on Thursday, bringing the total number of countries covered to nine.

The imagery available comprises video taken along 22,369 miles of UK streets by customised camera cars.

Street scenes in 25 UK cities from Aberdeen to Southampton can be viewed using the service.

Offending photos have been replaced by a black image with the message "This image is no longer available". However, many of the images can still be viewed by moving up or down a notch on the street.

Dr Ian Brown, a privacy expert at the Oxford Internet Institute, said he was not surprised that there were some offending images.

"This is exactly what you would expect from a service that relies on individuals to help Google not make mistakes," he said.

"They [Google] should have thought more carefully about how they designed the service to avoid exactly this sort of thing."

Dr Brown said Google could have taken images twice, on different days, so offending images could have been easily replaced and protected privacy better.

Google says it has gone to great lengths to ensure privacy, suggesting that the service only shows imagery already visible from public thoroughfares.

It also uses face recognition technology to blur out faces and registration plates that appear in the images.

The Information Commissioner's Office ruled in 2008 that the blurring was sufficient to ensure that privacy was maintained.

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