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Thai villagers apologize for blocking Google Street View car over misunderstanding

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BANGKOK - Internet giant Google's Street View project, which has raised privacy concerns in several countries, has ignited a minor uproar in northern Thailand where villagers suspected its cameras were surveying for an unwanted dam project.

Google's regional communications manager Taj Meadows said Wednesday that the company was aware of the incident in Sa-eab village in Phrae province, in which about 20 residents blocked a Google camera-equipped car. Google's project takes photos to accompany its Google Earth map program.

The Manager newspaper reported that the villagers took the vehicle's driver to a local office to quiz him, then to a temple where they made him swear on a statue of Buddha that he was not working for the dam project.

The Prachatai news website said the villagers released the driver and later apologized to him and to Google.

Sa-eab village, 615 kilometres (385 miles) north of Bangkok, is known for its long-running dam protests by villagers and environmental groups.

"(We) apologize to the official, to Google, as well as to the Thai people throughout the nation and to the citizens of the world," the villagers' representatives wrote. They explained that they were "extremely worried and there had been so many repeated cases that convinced the villagers to believe someone was trying to survey the area in disguise."

Google Street View has run into problems in some other countries where there are concerns it captures too much information that should be private. The project's technology also scoops up Wi-Fi radio signals, and Britain's data regulator in June ordered the company to delete personal data it gathered that way, or face a contempt of court action.

"Embarking on new projects, we sometimes encounter unexpected challenges, and Street View has been no exception," Google's Meadows said in an email, adding that "Street View abides by Thailand's local laws, and only features imagery taken on public property."

In 2011, the Tourism Authority of Thailand partnered with Google Thailand to launch a tourism promotion initiative involving images of streets and top attractions in the country's major cities.

Thailand was the world's 35th country to have Street View imagery available.

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