USA – If you live in Louisville or nearby parts of Southern Indiana, there’s a good chance that a picture of your front porch — and possibly much more — is now available for the world to see at Google.com.
The Google Maps section of the popular search engine added the metro area last week to its Street View tool, which offers images of neighborhoods across the nation as seen from a camera mounted on a car. Lexington and Cincinnati also were among the 37 cities added, doubling the coverage area.
Users can sift through photographs of thousands of local addresses, from the facade of Churchill Downs to grave sites in Cave Hill Cemetery and the flower beds in Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson’s front yard in Crescent Hill.
Laura Oatley, a real estate agent with Century 21 Realty Hagan Group, said her clients already have access to a range of Web sites such as Zillow.com that offer satellite images of local neighborhoods. But when Oatley took a spin on the new Google service last week, she was taken aback by the street-level access, which can be rotated 360 degrees and expanded with zooming.
“Oh, that’s wild,” Oatley said after peering at the front yard of one of her listings. “It could definitely benefit people when they’re looking at houses.”
Google uses Immersive Media, based in Calgary, Alberta, to collect the images. The company’s cars drive down streets with roof-mounted cameras collecting video, all the while embedding it with the location using the Global Positioning System. Immersive’s equipment stitches together 11 video streams into a nearly complete spherical image.
In a blog, Google says it uses “face blurring technology” to cover the faces of individuals who appear in the images, but a search of several downtown Louisville intersections revealed clear pictures of several people.
Also, a number of independent Web sites offer Street View snapshots from across the nation in which people have been caught in humorous or compromising positions, such as leaving an adult bookstore or falling over on a bicycle.
Elaine Filadelfo, a spokeswoman for Google at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., said the blurring technology focuses on images that are most readily recognizable. Faces that aren’t blurred are usually too far away to recognize, she said.
Most of the Street View images are a few months to a year old, Filadelfo said. If a person wants to have his or her home removed from the site, she said the company accepts requests through the Web site’s “help” function.
Street View photos cover most of Jefferson County, along with large areas of Jeffersonville, Clarksville and New Albany in Southern Indiana, and main arterial roads in Oldham and Bullitt counties.
Images show a family clustered around the giant baseball bat at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory on West Main Street, and water spilling from a fountain on St. James Court in Old Louisville. With a few mouse clicks, a user can take a virtual drive down Dixie Highway, passing automobile dealers, pawnshops and fast-food restaurants.
Dan Galvin, co-owner of Louisville-based Interactive Media Labs, predicted the service could be useful for online travel journals, for exploring neighborhoods in far-away cities or for school field trips.
The images might make some people think twice about their personal privacy, but Galvin said they are in the public domain.
“If you don’t want to get caught doing bad things, don’t do bad things,” he said.