Microsoft Streetside Takes On Google In UK

Microsoft has revealed that its answer to Google’s controversial StreetView is soon to arrive in the UK

British people can soon expect to see cars fitted with cameras on their streets, as software giant Microsoft looks to extended its answer to Google’s StreetView into the UK.

Dubbed Microsoft StreetSide, the service was launched in the United States in December 2009 and has since been rolled out to 56 towns and cities in America. A Microsoft spokesman has confirmed that StreetSide cars have started collecting 360-degree photos of UK streets in London from Tuesday morning.

Next month the imagery collection will push out into Europe, with the drive to collect imagery from Germany, and then France and Spain.

A schedule of the mapping progress can be found here.

Navteq Cars

“Microsoft is hoping the UK images will go live (on Bing Maps) in the second week in May,” said the spokesman, although this is apparently dependent on the weather.

Essentially, the cars Microsoft will use will look pretty similar to Google’s StreetView cars. However the cars will be branded with mapping specialist Navteq, which is a subsidiary of Nokia. Microsoft Bing uses Navteq maps, and use of Navteq features is part of the deal under which Nokia  adopted Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.

In an effort to quell privacy concerns, vehicle number plates in te images will be blurred out, as will people’s faces. Users can also ask for the removal of any images they think are inappropriate.

The Navteq cars will also gather point-of-interest information, such as the location of landmarks, pubs, and other information.

It is reported that Streetside will be on a smaller scale than Streetview however. Certainly it seems that Microsoft will not be attempting to match Google’s attempt to map out every street in the UK.

“We’re not setting out to record every street. We believe it is most valuable in urban centres where people want to find services,” Dave Coplin, Microsoft’s director of search told the BBC.

Wi-Fi Networks

Microsoft’s Streetside will be careful to avoid the trouble Google got into when it was revealed that its StreetView cars had actually captured data from Wi-Fi access points. Google confirmed at Christmas it had deleted the last of the UK data collected by its Street View cars in the notorious ‘WiSpy’ incident.

But the company had to endure months of controversy and investigations, including one from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), as well as many overseas probes.

eWEEK Europe was told that while the StreetSide car are not currently collecting Wi-Fi data, Microsoft has apparently asked the UK regulator for permission to map out the location of Wi-Fi networks in the UK.

However eWEEK Europe UK was informed that if this permission was granted, the cars would only capture three types of information, and certainly no payload data. This includes the MAC address of the WiFi network, as the SSID may contain people’s names or addresses. It will also note the network type (wireless G, N etc) as well as the signal strength of the network.

Image Surprises

The introduction of new cars capturing new information on Britain’s street’s will no doubt spring a few surprises.

In January Google’s StreetView car apparently caught an alleged caravan thief in action. And it remains to be seen what will happen if a StreetSide car encounters angry residents.

In April 2009, villagers in Broughton in Buckinghamshire formed a human chain to prevent a Google car shooting images for Street View from driving down the London Road – a cul-de-sac in the village near Milton Keynes.

“They felt his presence was an intrusion of their privacy,” the Thames Valley Police told The Associated Press at that time.

Update: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Navteq is a subsidiary of Microsoft.