Google Takes Street View Nation-Wide

Google has expanded its Street View service to cover 96 percent of all UK roads and thoroughfares

Google has expanded its Street View feature to cover “almost all” of the roads in the UK. From today, British users of the virtual mapping service will be able to view 360 degree images of 238,000 miles of public road and thoroughfares, from Cornwall to the Shetlands.

Google first launched Street View in the UK in March 2009, and has since been working to expand the service, stitching together more imagery collected by its camera-equipped cars. By increasing availability to cover 96 percent of the country’s roads and thoroughfares, the UK is catching up with Spain, France, Italy and the US, which already have nationwide coverage.

New images of British streets

“Street View takes mapping to a level not possible before. And with so many practical applications it’s no wonder that over two thirds of people who had tried the service said they would use Street View again,” said Google’s Geospatial Technologist Ed Parsons. “This new imagery of so many stunning British places means it’s the ideal time to start planning a trip, kick start a house-hunt or simply ensure you never arrive late to a meeting again.”

Street View has already proved popular across the UK, with a more than a 30 percent sustained increase in Google Maps usage since its launch, according to polling company YouGov. Individuals use it to check out restaurants, make travel plans and arrange meeting points, while many businesses embed Google Maps into their websites.

“We’re pleased that Google has increased its coverage of places in Britain,” said Sandie Dawe, chief executive of VisitBritain, claiming that Street View is increasingly becoming one of the first places people turn to when planning a visit. “Whether it’s shopping or museums; coastal towns or countryside; ancient history or ultra modern architecture, our potential visitors can dip in and find something to inspire them to visit our shores,” she said.

For Street View, Google deploys cars, tricycles and bicycles fitted with cameras to snap photos of urban streets. These pictures often include people, although Google employs special technology to blur faces and license plates in the pictures it captures. However, the introduction of Google Street View to the UK has been far from plane sailing.

Street View faces privacy concerns

In April last year, villagers in Broughton in Buckinghamshire formed a human chain to turn away a car shooting images for Street View. “They felt his presence was an intrusion of their privacy,” the Thames Valley Police told The Associated Press, adding that the Google contractor had driven off by the time the local constabulary arrived.

More recently, Google has clashed with the European Union over the challenges of protecting personal information. At an EC conference in May 2009, a delegate from Luxembourg  asked Google’s global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer why Google does not flag up when its camera vehicles are visiting a city.

“I fully sign up to the principle that citizens in these cities should have a way of finding this information – there is a list on the Internet of places we will visit,” said Fleischer. “We are constantly trying to perfect systems but we will never live in a perfect world where each and ever citizen will have a perfect time-table of when this kind of filming will happen.”

However, earlier this month the EU’s Article 29 Data Protection Working Party decided to crack down on Google’s Street View practices, demanding that Google provides people with advance notice of when its Street View vehicles will be roving the streets, It also specified that these images should be deleted after six months.

Google responded that its current retention period of one year is necessary to maintain the quality of the Street View service. “The need to retain the unblurred images is legitimate and justified – to ensure the quality and accuracy of our maps, to improve our ability to rectify mistakes in blurring, as well as to use the data we have collected to build better maps products for our users,” said in a statement sent to eWEEK.

“We have publicly committed to a retention period of 12 months from the date on which images are published on Street View, and this is the period which we will continue to meet globally,” he added.

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