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Phoenix and Tucson are beta sites for Google StreetView

Cool Phoenix is a beta site for Googles Street View which allows you to see the view on city streets as you look at Google maps. Use google street view at this URL.


Phoenix is added to Google Street View today
Street-scene photos raise privacy concerns

Andrew Johnson
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 9, 2007 12:00 AM

Welcome, everyone, to the Google microscope.

Today, the Phoenix area joins a handful of U.S. cities that people around the globe can tour - virtually - via a controversial new program known as Street View.

Street View is similar to the popular Google Earth and Google Maps programs, but it lets users navigate a city's streets in much greater detail by viewing 360-degree panoramic images.

Essentially that means that, as of this morning, you can check out your office building, your child's day-care facility, maybe even your front yard, depending on where they are located.

Google has not identified exactly which portions of the Valley are available in Street View, but it has said the program's boundaries include Scottsdale and parts of Phoenix.

The Internet search-engine giant launched its controversial program in a handful of cities in May. Today's expansion brings the total to 15 locales, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver and New York.

Supporters have heralded Street View as the next big thing in mapping technology, but the program has faced criticism from groups and individuals concerned about privacy rights.

Many of the images, which Google has collected quietly using vehicles equipped with imaging technology, show people going about their daily business.

How it works

Google has remained mum about the process it uses to photograph cities, or how it chooses which cities to add to its Street View roster.

What it has said is that it sends vehicles through heavily trafficked metro areas and photographs streets. The still pictures it captures include buildings, public areas and people.

To launch Street View, a person simply logs on to, which brings up a map of the United States.

A camera icon denotes those cities that are featured on Street View.

Once the user clicks on the camera icon, it will launch the map for that area. With a mouse, a user then can navigate another icon, which looks like a person, over any street outlined in blue.

Street View also lets users search via subject words, like pizza or dry cleaners, or by an address.

Privacy concerns

Ever since Google launched Street View five months ago, it has faced biting criticism from privacy advocates.

Although the images Google provides are of public streets, several groups argue that Street View crosses a line because the technology makes it possible to identify people in the photographs.

They also point out that images from other Street View cities have shown people in compromising situations.

One image, for example, showed a man climbing a fence at an apartment complex. Pictures also have been taken of people leaving an adult-entertainment store and of girls sunbathing on a college campus.

Those images and more have found their way to numerous Internet blogs since Street View's inception.

"People do expect a certain amount of anonymity in their everyday lives, and that's something that they should be able to have," said Rebecca Jeschke, spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has been a vocal critic of Street View.

"It's not a question of legality, it's a question of rudeness, really," she said.

Google acknowledges that it doesn't check every image before it is posted on Street View, but it says that it has worked diligently with privacy groups to address concerns and that it screens for particularly sensitive photographs, such as those that show domestic-violence shelters.

The company says it works hard to remove content from the site that the everyday user may think is inappropriate.

Street View, for example, allows users to flag questionable images by clicking "Street View Help," which brings up an option to report images for review.

"Google as a company takes privacy very, very seriously," said Stephen Chau, product manager for Street View.

Programs like this one highlight the delicate balance that exists between advancing new forms of technology and protecting privacy, said Donald Lange, an assistant professor of management at Arizona State University who specializes in ethics.

"When I first saw (the program), I was pretty excited about it," Lange said. "A lot of people were because it's just so cool and fun.

"Yet, at the same time, you have this nagging sense that it's part of . . . an ever-increasing, almost surveillance society that we live in where just walking down the street is no longer unobserved."

Users excited

For all the privacy concerns Street View has generated, Google users in the Valley say they're excited about the program being available here.

Chrisandria Hornsby, a receptionist at Snell & Wilmer LLP law firm in downtown Phoenix, said Monday that she uses Google Maps at work regularly to give directions to visitors to the office.

She said she understands the privacy concerns, but she pointed out that surveillance cameras are on various street corners capturing people out in the open.

Others are excited about the ability to give outsiders a better idea of what Phoenix is like.

"My biggest challenge has been trying to convey what our city looks like to individuals who live in Detroit during a snowstorm or in east Philly during dreaded rainstorms," Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said. "People from throughout the world will literally be able to see what I've been trying to put into words."

Gordon said he is not concerned about embarrassing images of the city popping up.

More cities

In addition to Phoenix, Google is adding Tucson; Chicago; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; and Portland, Ore., to its roster of Street View cities today, bringing the total to 15.

Google's main goal, Chau said, is to roll out the service in as many U.S. cities as possible and, eventually, take the program into other countries.

The company does plan to take new images of cities after a certain amount of time to keep its program fresh, but it has not said specifically how often it will be in the Phoenix area or whether it will expand Street View beyond the program's existing boundaries.

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8280.


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