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11/28/2012
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Google Street View Hits The Slopes

Google Street View captures a variety of images and locations and distances itself from privacy concerns.

Google I/O: 10 Awesome Visions
Google I/O: 10 Awesome Visions
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Not all Google Street View image acquisition runs are easy. Panoramic photography in the Antarctic or underwater is physically demanding. And capturing scenes of the Amazon basin on a Street View tricycle amid tropical heat, pedaling heavy gear on unpaved roads, isn't a picnic either.

If you had to pick a Street View assignment, you might be tempted to volunteer to map Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah, or Solden, a ski resort in Austria.

A few lucky Street View photographers have done just that. Google's Street View now includes the slopes at more than 90 ski resorts in the U.S., Canada and Europe. What better way to spend a ski weekend traffic jam on California's Highway 80 than vicariously traversing the slopes you're trying to reach on a network-connected iPad?

But Google hasn't limited itself to documenting the haunts of the ski-and-be-seen crowd. It has also added scenes from the Canadian arctic to its Street View image set. With Google's help and its Map Maker software, Nunavut Tunngavik, a non-profit group, and the people of Cambridge Bay, Canada, have put their own community on the Street View map. It's further proof that mapping is as much about community as it is about geography and politics.

[ What else can you see? Read Google Maps Shows Underwater Sights. ]

Street View wasn't always something people wanted. Initially, it was often thought of as Street Violation, a prying corporate eye that pierced lingering illusions of privacy in public spaces. And Google in many ways was to blame: Its Street View drivers drove onto a military base uninvited, captured images of people in compromising positions and of ostensibly private backyards, and even managed to prompt a blockade in one town in England.

Worse still, Google was violating people's privacy in a more substantive way than taking pictures in public -- its Street View cars were equipped with software that vacuumed up unprotected Wi-Fi network data, "inadvertently" the company insisted.

But many lawsuits, government demands and privacy promises later, Street View has evolved into something less threatening. It now includes imagery of areas of Japan affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, underwater imagery, pictures of the Arctic and Antarctica, and more than 50 museums around the world. By going off-road, Street View has left privacy privacy concerns behind and moved into the landscape of civic and cultural reflection.

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