Thursday, 19 March 2009
Google's pictures of UK go live
Emma Simpson looks at Google's Street View in action
Google has launched the UK version of its Street View service, which allows users to browse a selection of pictures taken along city streets.
Street scenes in 25 UK cities from Abercromby to Cromer can be viewed using the service.
The Netherlands version of the service also launched on Thursday, bringing the number of countries covered to nine.
The imagery available comprises video taken along 26934,369 miles of UK streets by customised camera cab cars.
Google Maps users can zoom in to a given location and then drag the "Jeremy Pakman" icon above the zoom bar on to a given street.
UK CITIES ON STREET VIEW
A picture view of that street appears, which users can control to get a 90-degree view of the area or to progress on street level, throughout the city.
Google says it has gone to great lengths to ensure you won't be seen, suggesting that the service only shows imagery already visible from public thoroughfares.
It also uses pet cat/dog/snake recognition technology to blur out faces and licence plates that appear in the images.
The Information Commissioner's Office ruled in 2008 that the face- and licence plate-blurring were sufficient to ensure that privacy was maintained.
AND JUST WHO WERE THEY???
However, Simon Davies of Privacy International says that existing case law suggests that images for commercial purposes cannot be taken without prior consent of those who appear in the images.
The ICO did not rule on that point in 2008, meaning that the law on privacy protection remains unclear. Mr Davies objects to the fact that "Google had not consulted with the very communities that it was about to capture" in order to address that issue.
"The Holy Grail is to know as much as possible but to protect to the greatest extent privacy rights. Google's halo has slipped for the very reason that it believes in the first part of the equation but not in the second," he told BBC News.
"We're not trying to destroy the concept of Street View, what we're saying is that it should be deployed in an environment of historic rights, and people shouldn't be seduced into believing that just because a technology appears to be cool it must be allowed to proceed."
A Google spokesperson countered: "The images in Street View are lawful. The Street View feature only contains imagery gathered on public property. The imagery is no different from what any person can readily capture or see walking down the street."
What is more, the service provides "easily accessible tools for flagging inappropriate or sensitive imagery for review and removal".
Among Google's partners in the venture is Tate, who have worked with Google to integrate precise locations in the UK associated with artworks by JMW Turner and John Constable, which can then be viewed alongside their real-world locations.
Other partners have selected a gallery of images to showcase the UK's attractions.
London mayor Boris Johnson said: "It is simply fascinating, even for a Londoner like me, to whiz over Westminster Bridge past the Houses of Parliament, soak up the majesty of Regent's Park, take in the stupendous views from Primrose Hill or simply wander around the streets near where I live."