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Microsoft rolls out StreetView rival in Europe

UK: It has been three years since Google’s StreetView first courted controversy by photographing every road in the UK. Now Microsoft has launched its own version of Google’s StreetView – dubbed StreetSide – across Europe.

Cars fitted with 360-degree cameras on them to record images for the interactive service. The service is already available in 56 US towns and cities. Microsoft has been keen to avoid the privacy concerns that dogged Google’s service but said that it does plan to gather wi-fi data, BBC reported.

Initially, StreetSide will be on a smaller scale than StreetView, according to the company’s director of search, Dave Coplin. “We are not setting out to record every street. We believe it is most valuable in urban centres where people want to find services,” Coplin said.

Microsoft’s ultimate aim was to combine StreetSide with location-based services, Coplin explained. To do that, it needed to collect wi-fi data, such as the unique number that identifies the location of a hotspot, the signal strength and the type of wireless signal being used. That information would be used to help locate users.

Google ran into trouble with privacy groups while creating StreetView after it emerged the company intercepted and stored private information from some hotspots. Google apologised for the “mistake” which it blamed on rogue coding. The incident led to investigations around the globe and forced the search giant to make radical changes to its privacy policies. By contrast Microsoft said that it would collect the “bare minimum” of data.

Another issue which dogged Google in its roll-out of StreetView was whether to allow users to opt out. Some residents complained that they could only ask for their property to be removed from the service after pictures went live. In Germany, authorities were reported to be considering legal action against the Google. In the end, they secured the right of householders to opt out of StreetView, having their homes and businesses pixelated before the service went live. 250,000 Germans decided to do this. As a result, the country introduced a code of practice, meaning all similar services, including StreetSide, will have to abide by the same rule.

But Microsoft will not be offering the opt-out to people in other countries. “It came up in our discussions with privacy bodies but the opt-out service was not something high on their list of priorities,” said Coplin. Microsoft said it had consulted with data protection authorities and privacy bodies such as Privacy International throughout the development of Streetside. “Privacy is imbued in everything we do,” Coplin added. Microsoft will notify the public about the service ahead of pictures being taken, using advertisements that will include a helpline number and website where people can get more information.

When StreetSide goes live on Microsoft’s mobile platforms, including its Windows phones, it will combine with so-called blockview technology which allows images to be flattened out and overlaid with metadata. That information will be used to offer contextual advertising and other localised information, according to Coplin.

Source: BBC