google street view for singapore

A HIGHLY controversial virtual-tour service by Google arrived in Singapore yesterday. And, already, it has polarised Internet users here on whether it infringes privacy.

Street View was launched by the American search-engine giant in the United States in May 2007 and is now accessible for free in more than 100 cities in the world.

Users can embark on a virtual tour in and around the streets of Singapore, enjoying a 360-degree and panoramic 3-D view of roads, buildings and iconic landmarks.

The service is available via smartphones as well.

Singapore is the first country in South-east Asia to get the service. Japan is the only other Asian nation to have it.

While some users welcome Street View, others are not so enamoured of it.

Privacy advocates in countries such as Britain, Japan and the US had complained that images featuring private gardens as well as people sun-tanning, leaving strip clubs or falling off their bikes were captured and made available to all and sundry.

In response, Google started, in July last year, to blur faces and licence-plate numbers.

However, it has been criticised for some poorly-blurred images.

Just last month, Swiss privacy watchdog Federal Data Protection and Information announced that it would sue Google for failing to make human faces and car plates “sufficiently unrecognisable”.

Mr Andrew McGlinchey, Google’s head of product management in South-east Asia, said users who object to certain images can report them by clicking on “Report a Problem” in the bottom left-hand corner of each image on maps.google.com.sg

While concerns will be addressed within 24 to 48 hours, requests for removal will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Mr McGlinchey said that its pictures are taken from public areas, and hence “we prefer not to (remove them)”.

Also, he added that “99.9 per cent of users love” the service. Still, if the images feature private homes, they will honour requests to take them down because of privacy issues, he said.

Marketing executive Sylvia Ng, 24, likes the tool as it helps her plan her itinerary.

“A map is 2-D, so sometimes you can’t gauge the actual distance of the next turn. This can provide landmarks. Also, now I can find the entrance to obscure carparks,” said the motorist.

She has no issue with having her image taken if it was recorded in a public setting, she added.

However, for project engineer Timothy Lim, the idea of having his image splashed online for all to see is “a little unsettling”.

“It feels like Big Brother in the book 1984, where people are watching your every move. I wouldn’t want to be caught doing something embarrassing,” he said.

Google said that images of Singapore streets, which range “in the millions”, were taken between October last year and the beginning of this year.

Cameras perched on top of cars took high-resolution pictures every few metres.

Mr McGlinchey said that the service will be updated “sometime next year” when major construction projects such as the integrated resorts and shopping malls in Orchard Road are completed.

From October, it had also begun using tricycles to record images of small nooks and pedestrian paths which cannot be accessed by cars.

The information gathered will be made available only next year.

Mr Ken Low, assistant chief executive for marketing at Singapore Tourism Board (STB), is a fan of Street View.

He said: “It will raise Singapore’s prominence and reach through the Internet. People unfamiliar with Singapore can now get a first look at our city.”

Just 2 days ago I took Google Street View out for a test drive. It’s pretty awesome finally being able to see familiar places on Street View – Up till a few days ago, Google Street View wasn’t available in Singapore. Most of the major roads are covered so far, bu the images look like they were taken months ago. It’s great to know that they’ll be updating the images next year once the integrated resorts and shopping malls are finished. Else, foreign visitors wouldn’t be able to see these buildings on Street View.

On a side note, now we can build an exercise bike and hook it up to Google Street View too! Just like what this guy did: http://hackaday.com/2009/11/11/biking-through-google-street-view/

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