EU says Google map images could be a problem

A convention attendee talks on a cell phone as he views a display of Google Maps in San Diego, California August 9, 2007. REUTERS/Mike Blake

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The ability of Google Inc’s map service to put detailed street-level images on the Internet could raise concerns in Europe if it was introduced there, the EU’s data protection agency said on Thursday.

Google’s Street View offers ground-level, 360-degree views of streets in 30 U.S. cities. It has become popular among drivers but courted controversy over potential privacy invasion.

“Making pictures everywhere is certainly going to create some problems,” European Union Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx told a news conference to present his annual report.

But Hustinx, who works with Europe’s national authorities to set consistent rules on data and privacy protection through the 27-country bloc, said he was confident Google would take into account European law in any future introduction of the product.

“Apparently there is the capacity to adapt this in different modes,” he said, referring to technical possibilities of limiting what images were published online.

In March Google said it would comply with a Pentagon request to remove some online images from Street View over fears they posed a security threat to U.S. military bases.

Other concerns have been more banal. In one instance, a man was pictured exiting a San Francisco strip club. In another case, a woman was shown sunbathing.

Street View has yet to be introduced outside the United States. Web-based Google Maps and a related computer-based service called Google Earth have drawn criticism from a variety of countries for providing images of sensitive locations, such as military bases or potential targets of terror attacks.

The services rely on civilian versions of satellite maps that it licenses from commercial mapping services.

Reporting by Mark John; editing by Sue Thomas