English village in Street View fight against Google
Published 12/03/2010 | 10:00
In one corner was a group of villagers keen to guard their privacy from the prying eyes of the outside world. In the other was Google, the internet giant that has set out to photograph every street in Britain and put the images online.
Residents of London Road - a cul-de-sac of 30 detached and semi-detached houses in Broughton, on the outskirts of Milton Keynes - decided to take a stand after the Google Street View service was launched last year.
They prevented one of the company's cars from driving down the street, claiming that the images from a camera mounted on its roof would effectively allow burglars to peer over their garden walls.
And for much of yesterday it appeared that the small band of householders had won a famous victory.
When the service - which stitches together photographs of public roads to provide a "virtual tour" of towns and villages - went live in the Broughton area, London Road was missing.
Internet users who attempted to look at the street yesterday morning were greeted with a blank screen and a message that read: "This image is no longer available." However, villagers' joy soon turned to anger when 360-degree images of the cul-de-sac eventually appeared later in the evening, with Google blaming a "technical glitch" earlier in the day.
It left residents bemoaning a perceived lack of accountability and public control in the mapping service, which now covers 95pc of the UK.
"I think it's an invasion of privacy," said John Neale, 76, a retired builder who lives on the street. "These photos are looking over your fences and walls - it's an intrusion and I'm not sure it's a necessity."
Edward Butler-Ellis, 28, a Conservative Party councillor for Milton Keynes and one of the residents who led the protests, said: "The fact is they should have asked or at least let people know that they were photographing their houses.
"What really gets me is people have to opt out of being on it when they should have to opt in. A lot of older people without the internet are unaware that they are able to opt out of this."
Street View was launched last spring with above eye-level photography of cities including London and Manchester.
It attracted the ire of privacy campaigners who claimed the service breached data protection laws.
But the Information Commissioner's Office ruled that the service was legal, and that Google's practice of blurring faces and number plates to ensure that individuals could not be identified was sufficient.
Thames Valley Police, which covers the Broughton area, said there was no evidence to suggest that the service caused an increase in burglaries.
Google said that it took privacy concerns extremely seriously and made it easy for people to request that an image be removed.
Each picture on the mapping site features a link that people can click on to ask that a picture is deleted or blurred.
"There can be the occasional technical glitch when we first launch imagery but this has now been fixed," said a Google spokesman.
"If there are any pending requests for the removal of houses, vehicles or people along that road, we will process those in the normal way."
Elsewhere, a council has been ordered to help a group of travellers obtain a postcode, which would pave the way for them to claim state benefits.
A judge sitting at Blackpool County Court said that the authorities should help the travellers gain a postcode after council officials went to court to stop a group making a site in Hardhorn, Lancs, more permanent.