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Google CFO defends Street View despite privacy concerns

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MONTREAL - Despite a stream of complaints and privacy concerns, the chief financial officer of Google Inc. says people love the company's Street View.

"The vast majority of places where we show up, people can't wait to see the Google car," Patrick Pichette said after a speech to the Montreal Board of Trade on Tuesday.

"Think of the (company's) mission of creating information and giving information to the whole world to make it a better place."

Street View uses a special 360-degree camera installed on the roof of a vehicle to provide street-level images on the Internet.

Google created it to give Net users the ability to virtually roam the streets of urban centres, downtown cores, tourist attractions, commercial centres and neighbourhoods.

The Canadian version of Street View is expected to be launched in several cities in the coming weeks.

Pichette pointed out that faces and licence plates are blurred out to avoid identifying people or cars.

"By the way, it erases the faces of cats and dogs too, so everybody's privacy is protected," he added jokingly.

Pichette noted that some countries like Germany have asked to sit down with the search engine giant and do more work before its launch there.

"Obviously you need to protect privacy and obviously you need to work with government and local authorities to make sure you answer any concerns they may have," he said.

But try telling that to a husband in London, England, whose wife spotted his car on the Internet parked outside another woman's house.

The wife recognized the vehicle because of its distinctive hubcaps.

Earlier this month, residents of the English town of Milton Keynes tried to prevent the driver of a Google car from taking pictures for its Street View service.

The eye-level snapshots are searched through Google Maps and Google Earth.

The service is already available in cities in the U.S., the UK, Spain, Australia and Japan.

Pichette joined Google in August 2008 after working at Bell Canada where he served as president of operations.

He held various executive positions with Bell, including CFO from 2002 until the end of 2003.

Pichette said Google, with offices in Montreal, Toronto and Waterloo, Ont., has been affected by the current recession, "like everyone else."

"We said, at the end of our third quarter last year, that we were truly in uncharted territory," he said.

"But Google is incredibly resilient because its business model adapts to the economy."

In his luncheon speech, Pichette said the company, which is based in Mountain View, Calif., has no intention of reducing its investments in research and development.

In the first quarter of 2009, Google registered its first drop in revenue since it began public trading on the stock market in 2004.

But its profits still grew by eight per cent when compared with the same period last year.

The 46-year-old Pichette, who wore jeans and running shoes during his remarks to the business group, also sported a jacket, but with no tie.

"You don't need to wear a suit to be taken seriously (at Google), " he added.

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