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EU regulators critical of Google Street View, report says

February 26, 2010 | 12:06 pm
Molfsee
The German town of Molfsee is trying to block Google from publishing photos of its streets. Credit: Carsten Rehder / EPA

Adding to Google's recent spate of legal issues in the European Union, a group of government officials there sent a letter to the company warning that its Street View function, which creates detailed photographic maps of cities, may violate privacy laws by holding on to photos for a year.

"It is disproportionate to retain unblurred copies of the images for one year," said a letter from the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, a group of EU officials tasked with protecting data privacy. The letter was obtained by Bloomberg News, which said it had been sent on Feb. 11.

In addition, the watchdog group said, Google should react more quickly to requests that images and data be deleted for privacy reasons, as well as "taking positive measures to avoid capturing images of a sensitive nature.”

The letter is not the first from the Article 29 group to Google. In October, another missive (PDF) criticized Google's policy of retaining users' search data for more than six months, and not rendering it adequately anonymous.  

The Street View letter came on the heels of a criminal judgment in Italy against three Google executives, who were convicted in absentia of violating privacy laws based on a Google-hosted video of an autistic boy being teased by classmates in Turin, Italy. 

The EU also began an antitrust probe of Google this week, seeking information on how the company's search engine orders its results, and whether that system was fair to competitors.

A Google privacy lawyer told Bloomberg News that the company had reason to hang on to its Street View images for a year. “The need to retain the unblurred images is legitimate and justified: to ensure the quality and accuracy of our maps, to improve our ability to rectify mistakes in blurring, as well as to use the data we have collected to build better maps products for our users,” said the lawyer, Peter Fleischer.

In Germany, Google has said it will launch Street View by the end of the year, despite protestations from citizens and officials concerned about privacy violations. 

-- David Sarno

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