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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Google Street View or Google Peeping Tom?

The latest buzz from Google the last 24 hours or so has been in regards to their new ‘Street View’ software that they have now integrated into Google Maps. Now, not only can you get maps, directions, and satellite imagery – but you can get a street level view of what is happening or what a particular area looks like. (As of Thursday, May 31st)

Since the announcement, there has been a lot of concern coming from privacy advocates and other sources. Some mentioned that you could see some person picking their nose in San Francisco, or seeing some other folks entering an adult store in another city. With the amount of uproar initially, one would think that Google was capturing this imagery in real-time and allowing folks to watch or effectively become peeping Toms in cities already identified by it.

So, curious to the functionality being offered – I decided to take a look at Google’s Street View functionality in their Google Maps application. Given that I have been spending a lot of time up at our (Intuit) Mountain View office, I took a couple of quick looks around the city of Mountain View for the familiar sites.

First there is the building where I have been spending a lot of time, Mountain View – 3.

Google Street View Intuit Mountain View

Then there is the hotel I have been staying, but it is on the outskirts of Mountain View and not yet covered by the maps – just a little too far down on El Camino Real.

The last item I checked was the Trader Vic’s just a little farther down on El Camino Real and was able to locate it.

Google Street View Trader Vics

The overall impression is that the footage is static and benign. While I am sure there are some areas that people will find that are questionable, Google took great care to contact organizations in the cities where they captured imagery to insure victims of abuse or people in similar situations were no exposed – which is very important. A previous try by Amazon’s A9 did not take such precautions and got them in hot water.

What Google did was send camera vans to the locations throughout the cities where they have the video imagery supported and they captured the images over time. Given the vast areas of scenery covered, I wonder what Street View Mashups we should expect to see in the coming weeks.

Oh yeah, and did you know Microsoft has a similar service available? Neither did I!