Google has launched its Street View service in the UK.
On Thursday, the software giant announced that Google Maps now allows users to navigate some UK city streets, using photographs taken at a street-level viewpoint. It has been rolling out its Street View service gradually in various countries, starting with the US, since May 2007. Camera-equipped cars began photographing British streets in the summer of 2008.
"Street View has been hugely popular with our users in Europe and worldwide, and we're thrilled it's now available in the UK for so many great cities, enabling users to see street-level panoramas of major city roads and look up and print out useful driving directions," Ed Parsons, Google UK's geospatial technologist, said in a statement.
The full list of UK cities covered by the service includes: London, Edinburgh, Leeds, Bradford, Cambridge, Cardiff, Belfast, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Oxford, Sheffield, Nottingham, Derby, Bristol, Coventry, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Swansea, York, Newcastle, Dundee, Southampton, Norwich and Scunthorpe. The scope of Street View is limited in some cities, a spokesperson for Google said.
London's mayor, Boris Johnson, said in the Google statement that Street View was "a hugely practical tool if you're off to an area of the city you've never been to before or are on the hunt for a new home".
"London's unique beauty, splendour and energy is truly illuminated in cyberspace with this superb new tool," 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."
Google's commercial launch partners for Street View in the UK include Findaproperty.com and Fancyapint.com. Fancyapint founder Gordon Butler said in the statement that imagery had always been a key factor in the online pub guide because it helps users find their destination, and Street View took this idea to a "whole new level".
Because Street View is a function within Google Maps, it can be embedded for free within businesses' websites as part of the wider mapping application.
Google incorporated Street View into its Google Maps for Mobile (GMM) application in September last year. The company spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Thursday that users of BlackBerry smartphones, T-Mobile's G1 Android phone and Apple's iPhone should be able to see street-level imagery on their handsets from today. However, the spokesperson was not able to say when a version of GMM for other platforms, such as Nokia Series 60, would be able to get the same functionality.
Google has no plans for advertising within Street View at the moment, the spokesperson said, but added that the company was interested to see how businesses would use the service over the next few months. "We've launched with Findaproperty.com, who see immense value for it in the property and real-estate market," the spokesperson noted.
As Street View has been rolled out in various countries, some have raised privacy concerns over the idea of having houses and, in some cases, individuals who had been caught on camera, readily viewable on the web. Google pointed out in its statement that the service "only contains imagery that is already visible from public roads", and emphasised that automated blurring technology was used to obscure faces and numberplates. Users can also flag images they consider inappropriate.
In August 2008, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said it was satisfied Google is putting in place adequate safeguards to avoid any risk to the privacy or safety of individuals.