* Controversial street-level image maps launched in UK
* Allows users to navigate 360-degree city streetscapes
* Google blurs faces, licence plates to protect privacy
By Paul Sandle
LONDON, March 19 Google Inc (GOOG.O) has
launched its controversial street-level photo maps in 25 cities
in the UK, with new technology to address people's fears of
being captured in the Internet search leader's images.
The service, named "Street View", allows users to navigate
around a 360-degree view of city streets, including buildings,
traffic and people, using pictures taken by Google's camera
Google said it was addressing privacy concerns by using
software to blur images of pedestrians or car licence plates.
"Privacy is really important to us. We think we have largely
addressed those issues," Ed Parsons, a geospatial technologist
for Google, told a news conference on Thursday.
"Anything that can identify an individual person or car, we
are doing our best to try to remove (that) image."
The privacy features were developed in consultation with the
UK privacy commissioner, and Parsons said facial blurring worked
in 99.9 percent of cases. Another technology could be used to
complete the job if necessary, he said.
Users could also flag an image to Google if it raised
privacy concerns or contained inappropriate content, and Google
said the image would be removed or blacked out in "almost all
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
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.
Google was slow to introduce Street Views into Britain,
partly in response to the instant uproar caused by its initial
introduction in the United States, and also, partly due to bad
Images of people sunbathing, possibly breaking into
properties and entering an adult bookstore were found when the
service was first launched.
Google, however, said the imagery used was no different from
what a person could readily see or capture walking down the
street, and it had taken steps, including blurring and image
removal, to ensure it respected privacy.
The company uses cars equipped with 30 special cameras to
photograph public streets in major cities around the world.
Spotting the cars became a Web fad this summer in Britain, with
Register.com publishing a Google Map where users could
Street View UK is available in 25 UK cities, including
London, Belfast, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Cardiff.
(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by David Cowell)