MOUNTAIN VIEW, California: Google has raised the hackles of online privacy groups, who assert that its new Street View service - which superimposes real pictures of everyday life on maps of several major US cities - has overstepped the mark.

The high-resolution video images, launched last week, were taken during the past year from vans cruising the streets of New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver and Miami. They will be updated at unspecified intervals.

Gargantua Google's latest wheeze came to the attention of bloggers and other online voices when a woman in Oakland, California, checked her own street on the service and saw a picture of her pet cat sitting in the window of her apartment.

Mary Kalin-Casey complained: "The issue that I have ultimately is about where you draw the line between taking public photos and zooming in on people's lives."

Google insists it takes privacy seriously and has considered the service's implications: "Street View only features imagery taken on public property. This imagery is no different from what any person can readily capture or see walking down the street."

But, argues Kevin Bankston, a staff lawyer at digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation: "I think that this product illustrates a tension between our First Amendment right to document public spaces around us, and the privacy interests people have as they go about their day."

He pointed-out that Google could avoid privacy concerns by blurring the faces of people 'caught', for example, outside a lap-dancing club or scaling the wall of an apartment building.

Google says people featured in the pictures can ask for their removal from the global gaze, but claims it has received "very few" such requests.

Data sourced from People