Hundreds of thousands of Germans have requested their homes be kept out of Google's Street View mapping service, a German magazine reported. Citing company sources, weekly Der Spiegel said “several hundred thousand” tenants had already objected to inclusion in the Google service, which uses camera-equipped fleets of cars to take panoramic pictures of cities for its online atlas. The firm itself would not give concrete figures, it added.

The German government has been critical of Street View and said it will scrutinise Google's promise to respect privacy requests by letting people stay out of the project. German opponents have until October 15 to apply for an opt-out. Google, the world's no. 1 search engine, plans to add Germany's 20 largest cities to Street View by the end of 2010, joining 23 countries already included. The US company said human faces and license plates would be blurred.

Launched in 2007, Street View allows users to see street scenes on Google Maps and take virtual “walks” on computers.

In Germany, where debates on surveillance are tinged with memories of the role played by the Nazis' Gestapo and the East German Stasi secret police, doubts have been raised about the transparency of the project, which Google calls a helpful tool. Critics say it invites abuse. They argue thieves can search for targets, security firms could use the data for sales pitches, job seekers might find their homes scrutinised by employers, and banks could inspect the homes of loan applicants.

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