Google® Street View is a computer application that provides high resolution images of locations that match up with the Google ® Maps application. Since its introduction in 2007, Google® Street View has sent vehicle-mounted cameras around the world to take panoramic photography that can be used to produce an 360 degree image of nearly any location. Google® Street View has been a subject of constant controversy since its introduction, following accusations of privacy invasion.
Originally, photographic imagery was used to give a largely overhead view of streets and buildings in Google® Maps. The disadvantage of this form of the program was significant, since only the tops of buildings could be seen. Google® Street View was created to produce ground level photographic maps that allow people to see buildings or routes exactly as they appear at roughly eye level. The cameras are suspended on the top of vans or other vehicles that allow a street level view of nearly any location.
Google® Street View was introduced in 2007 using images taken throughout the United States. As technology improved, new generations of cameras were introduced and coverage expanded to cover Canada, Mexico, Australia, Europe, and parts of Asia, South America, and Africa. Coverage was initially limited to public access streets large enough for the vans to get down. In 2009, a three-wheeled vehicle known as a trike was added to allow access to pedestrian areas, such as hiking trails and college campuses. Snowmobile mounted cameras have also been used.
Private area imagery is sometimes available on Google® Street View. Theme parks, such as Disneyland Paris, permitted special Google® Street View images to be collected in some areas of the park. In general, however, the images are limited to public access areas in order to protect privacy.
Despite privacy protections such as face-blurring technology, critics consider Google® Street View to be the very essence of privacy invasion. Many object to having photographs of their homes, cars, and activities available in a high resolution view on the Internet. The Czech Republic made headlines in 2010 by banning future operations of the program in the country due to privacy concerns.
Scavenger hunting for surprising images captured on Google® Street View has become an Internet game of sorts. Some people will deliberately hunt down the vans to try and create bizarre or amusing photographs that will then become part of the permanent image. Some websites even run ongoing competitions for maps that show unusual activities, such as fist fights, sunbathers, or people being pulled over by law enforcement.