Google's efforts to put the whole world on a map has run into a slight snag with villagers of Broughton in southern England opposing the company's vehicle taking photographs of their homes to incorporate in Google Street View, the popular service that allows Internet users to see high-quality photos of houses and streets around the world.
The villagers ultimately stopped the car and confronted the driver over worries of additional burglaries in their village made possible by invasive photos of their homes. There had already been three burglaries in the previous six weeks, and the residents believed that posting the full view of their beautiful neighbourhood would only entice them further.
The police eventually arrived to reports of a band of local citizens confronting the Google Street View contractor. However, by the time police arrived, the driver had already managed leave the scene, continuing on with in his mapping duties. A police spokeswoman later said, "They felt his presence was an intrusion of their privacy. When police arrived at the scene, the car had moved on."
A Google spokesman added, "The Metropolitan Police told us they saw no appreciable security risk, that burglars are opportunistic, and that mapping products can be useful in solving and mapping crime in an area. Embarking on new projects, we sometimes encounter unexpected challenges, and Street View has been no exception."
Street View debuted in the US in 2007 and has since spread to countries including France, Italy, Spain, Australia and Japan. It launched in Britain last month, sparking a debate about freedom of information and the right to privacy.
Street View has sparked concern elsewhere as well. In the US, Google removed images of shelters for battered women. In the Netherlands, concerns have been raised about the safety of anyone trying to photograph Amsterdam's notorious Red Light district. So far, Google's images stop just outside the district. In Italy, consumer groups have raised a variety of concerns and asked Google to put visual and sound warnings on the cars that take its Street View pictures. (See: Google makes faces in its Street View photos unrecognizable)
"All the information on Street View is the same as you would find on a property Web site or walking down the street yourself," said Google spokesman Anthony House. But, he added, "it's a new technology and so I think it is understandable that people will be unhappy with it." He said Google would remove any image on request, which can be done by clicking a link on the Street View Web site.