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Google Street View Details Japan Tsunami Devastation

Google uses Street View to preserve images of destruction caused by the March 11 tsunami and earthquake.
Google continues disaster relief support tradition, preserves images of destruction caused by the March 11 tsunami and earthquake.

Google's initial effort to photograph Japan's roads using its Street View cars didn't go so well. In 2009, the company had to reshoot some of its imagery because local officials complained that the cameras mounted on the cars were too high and afforded a view over fences into private backyards.

These days Google's Street View image acquisition in Japan isn't provoking the same backlash. Street View cars don't seem so strange now that Google is testing cars without drivers. And many of those backyards that Google's mapping effort might have revealed were exposed when the March 11 earthquake and tsunami destroyed walls, fences, and the like.

Privacy wasn't really a social priority when Google began helping with Japan's disaster relief effort through the company's Person Finder service. Nor is it a major concern in the Street View imagery depicting the devastation affecting northeastern Japan that Google has just released. Privacy hasn't been kicked to the curb: Google is still blurring license plates in the new imagery. But it does seem like a rather provincial worry in the face of the very public hardship facing many of Japan's citizens.

Google began recording panoramic imagery of the damage in areas of Japan affected by the tsunami back in July. Monday, it made its record of the disaster available through the Street View feature in Google Maps and through a website called Mirai e no kioku, which means "Memories for the Future" in Japanese. The company hopes will the website will help people in Japan share photos and memories of their lost homes and towns.

[ Read Google's Daring Dozen: 12 Big Bets In 2011 ]

"Seeing the street-level imagery of the affected areas puts the plight of these communities into perspective and ensures that the memories of the disaster remain relevant and tangible for future generations," explained Google senior product manager Kei Kawai in a blog post.

Kawai said that Google also hopes scientists and researchers will be able to learn from the aftermath images.

Street View is already helping scientists and researchers elsewhere: Since last year, Google has been helping those working in Antarctica by organizing imagery of the frozen continent. To date, the company, in conjunction with the Polar Geospatial Center at the University of Minnesota, has updated almost 1 million square kilometers of imagery for both poles.

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