What is Google® Street View?

Jessica Ellis

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.

Google Street View, which was introduced in 2007, uses images taken throughout the United States.
Google Street View, which was introduced in 2007, uses images taken throughout the United States.

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.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a EasyTechJunkie writer.

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Discussion Comments


@browncoat - I worry a bit about the fact that Google has been filming in countries where the inhabitants might not have any clue what they are doing. I think it's bad enough to film in locations in the developed world, where streets are public property and people understand that they could be caught on film at any moment.

But in countries where there are a lot of homeless people or open air homes or even refugee camps can't even attempt to preserve their privacy if cars with cameras on them come past.


@pleonasm - I particularly like being able to use Google map Street View when I'm telling people about the places I've visited and lived. I was showing my nephew where I lived for a while in West Africa and I didn't expect to be able to go right down to street view level, but they had it for a surprisingly large amount of places there. Even the small town where I was based. So I could literally show him the front door of the house I used to live in (although only because it was on the main street).

It must be an incredible teaching tool for people who are teaching in schools, as you would be able to help kids to feel like they are literally visiting places like Paris or Rome.


The other day I needed to find some charity clothing bins to donate some clothes and they didn't seem to have them labeled properly on the website. So I hopped onto Google street view and basically wandered down the nearest streets to my home until I found some.

I can still remember when the internet itself was considered to be a marvel, but being able to basically look at every single section of every single street in the world is an amazing thing.

I can also see why people get worried about privacy concerns, but they blank out all the faces and license plates now, so I don't think that's such a big deal.

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