Thai villagers mistake Google worker for govt snoop

Thai villagers on Wednesday apologised for mistaking a Google worker for a government snoop as he carried out mapping for the Internet giant's "Street View" programme in a remote area.

The man was stopped by villagers at Sa Iap, in northern Thailand, on Tuesday as he drove through in a marked Google car with a camera attached to a turret.

They suspected him of being sent by the government to conduct a survey for a controversial dam project that has stirred local opposition.

Villagers surrounded the man's car, questioned him and then took him to the local temple to swear in front of a statue of Buddha that he was not working for the government.

Devout locals said the man -- who is Thai -- would face bad luck within a week if he lied in front of the Buddha's image.

"Villagers apologise to Google for the misunderstanding that he came to survey the area to build the dam," said a statement posted on the Facebook page for locals opposing the dam.

One resident said the Google car stirred suspicion as it toured side streets in their small village with a camera visible on the roof.

"The villagers were definitely not happy. The car looked very strange and had something on the top -- there was also all kinds of equipment inside the car," Wichai Ruksapon, 64, told AFP by telephone.

Acknowledging the incident a Google spokesman said the company "sometimes encounters unexpected challenges, and Street View has been no exception".

But he insisted Google "abides by Thailand's local laws, and only features imagery taken on public property".

Launched in 2007, Google Street View is a programme giving panoromic street-level photographs of towns and cities across the world, allowing viewers to take virtual tours.

In 2010 hundreds of thousands of Germans told the Internet giant they did not want their homes visible in Street View over privacy concerns.