Page last updated at 10:48 GMT, Thursday, 19 March 2009

Google's pictures of UK go live

Birmingham Street View image (Google)
Birmingham is one of 25 UK cities fully covered by the service

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 Aberdeen to Southampton 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 22,369 miles of UK streets by customised camera cars.

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Emma Simpson looks at Google's Street View in action

Google Maps users can zoom in to a given location and then drag the "Pegman" icon above the zoom bar on to a given street.

UK CITIES ON STREET VIEW
Aberdeen
Belfast
Birmingham
Bradford
Bristol
Cambridge
Cardiff
Coventry
Derby
Dundee
Edinburgh
Glasgow
Leeds
Liverpool
London
Oxford
Manchester
Newcastle
Norwich
Nottingham
Scunthorpe
Sheffield
Southampton
Swansea
York

A picture view of that street appears, which users can control to get a 360-degree view of the area or to progress on street level, throughout the city.

Google says it has gone to great lengths to ensure privacy, suggesting that the service only shows imagery already visible from public thoroughfares.

It also uses face recognition technology to blur out faces and licence plates that appear in the images.

'Slipped halo'

The Information Commissioner's Office ruled in 2008 that the face- and licence plate-blurring were sufficient to ensure that privacy was maintained.

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.

HAVE YOUR SAY
In what way is it an invasion of privacy? They're taking pictures of houses, not you.
Graham, Sheffield

However, Mr Davies does not object to the Street View service altogether.

"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".

Art partner

Street View/Tate screenshot (Google)
Artworks, pub recommendations, and tourist attractions are linked in

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."

Also, hidden among the images is the popular children's book character Wally - of striped-jumper Where's Wally? fame - in one UK location.

Have you spotted any funny or unusual pictures in Street View? Send them to us at: yourpics@bbc.co.uk, or upload them from this page:upload here.

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SEE ALSO
Google Street View gets go ahead
31 Jul 08 |  Technology
Google defends Street View tool
07 Jul 08 |  Technology
Google's Street View under fire
09 Jul 08 |  Science & Environment

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