When it comes to navigating the East Valley, residents in some areas will have an easier time tracking down that hole-in-the-wall restaurant or checking out the new neighborhood where they’re thinking of moving.
Internet giant Google has added certain areas of Mesa, Tempe, Scottsdale and other Valley cities to its newest mapping feature called Street View, which allows users to virtually tour neighborhoods and public places via street-level imagery.
“Users can virtually walk the streets of a city and preview destinations like restaurants and hotels,” Google spokeswoman Megan Quinn wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.
Following the popular Google Earth and Maps, Street View offers 360-degree panoramic views, which users can rotate or zoom in on. The images are collected using vehicles equipped with imaging technology that drive along public streets.
Google launched the feature in May and has since steadily added cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Orlando and San Francisco. The Valley region and Tucson were added on Tuesday. Like Google’s other mapping features, the pictures will eventually be updated, Quinn said.
Gilbert real estate agent Josh Coplan said he thought the new tool would be helpful for agents and home buyers. Many agents already frequently use Google Maps to capture aerial shots so people can view entire properties, Coplan said. On the street level, home buyers hunting online typically just get a picture of the outside of a house, he said.
“Street View would allow them to dive in a little deeper and see what the rest of the community looks like,” he said.
But the tool has raised privacy concerns among critics. It erodes some of the anonymity people have come to expect in day-to-day life, said Rebecca Jeschke, a spokeswoman for San Francisco-based digital civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation. The images can be embarrassing if not dangerous, Jeschke said.
“One of our attorneys at EFF got caught smoking while he was trying to quit,” she said.
Locally, the reaction has been mixed. “I was a little weirded out by the satellite imaging,” said Tara Daukas, 28, of Gilbert. “I would lean towards not being in favor of it.”
Google has worked to erase images of sensitive locations, such as domestic violence shelters, Jeschke said. But not all potentially sensitive locations are easily identified, such as where Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are held or where religious groups gather, Jeschke said.
“At Google we take privacy very seriously,” Google’s Quinn said. “Street View only features imagery taken on public property.”
It’s no different from what any individual can see walking down the street, Quinn said. Chandler resident Emilia Chavez said she didn’t think the images were inappropriate.
“It’s not an invasion of privacy if it’s something you can see anyway,” said Chavez, 18. Users can also request removal of objectionable images by clicking the “Street View Help” link contained in each image bubble, Quinn said. They can report unsuitable images, such as those including nudity, and certain types of locations like domestic violence shelters. Clearly identifiable people who request it can have the images taken down. Chavez added average citizens had nothing to worry about.
“If people aren’t doing anything they’re not supposed to be doing, then what’s the problem?”
Tribune writer Kasia Marciszewska contributed to this report.