Google Street View Captures Boston in Controversial Detail Through Google Maps new "street view" feature, you can get a virtual view of what you'd see if you were actually walking down the block, including license plates and people's faces. We speak with Bostonians who find the new service both frightening and cool.

Google Street View Captures Boston in Controversial Detail

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JAMES HATTORI, host:

So if you have to travel this weekend and need some directions, you might come across Google's new mapping service called Street View. Boston is one of eight cities that got the feature yesterday.

And as NPR's Tovia Smith reports, some users are finding it as scary as it is cool.

TOVIA SMITH: Google's new Street View offers exactly that - a virtual look at everything you'd see if you were actually walking down the block.

So not just the tops of the trees and the roofs of the houses, but I can see...

Mr. ROB ANDERSON(ph) (Construction Manager): Wow, that is amazing.

SMITH: At an Internet cafe in Boston, construction manager Rob Anderson is riveted to a laptop where the online view of the storefronts and brownstones mirror what's outside the window.

And you can pan around.

Mr. ANDERSON: I'm blown away by it.

SMITH: Street View works by melding millions of still photos taken by Google car cams. It's one massive bundle of snapshots for Google and one huge leap for anyone who needs a map.

Mr. STEVEN BOOZER(ph): A week ago this would have been a very nice service to have. I could have sat at the computer at home in my underwear.

SMITH: But instead, Steven Boozer and his wife Krista(ph) journeyed up from Miami to Boston to house hunt in person. They're about to trudge through the snow to see yet another apartment.

Well, let me save you the trip. You want to see what you're going to see?

Mr. BOOZER: Please.

SMITH: Okay. So all we have to do here is put in your address.

Mr. BOOZER: There's the entrance.

KRISTA: Yeah. That's it. That's it.

SMITH: The apartment looks fine, but the more Krista experiments zooming in on the lady heading in the front door or on a window that's got no shade, the more she doesn't like what she sees.

KRISTA: I really do feel violated. I think that's invasion of my privacy. That's my home, that's where I live, that's not right. I mean, if I have a wedgie, gosh darn it, I want to pick it in private. I don't want people watching me.

Mr. BOOZER: And if you're doing it while having that occasional cigarette...

KRISTA: Exactly.

Mr. BOOZER: ...you might not want mom to know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: In fact, a privacy advocate from California was captured by Street View smoking what he thought would be a surreptitious cigarette. Google agreed to remove his image, but the company is refusing calls to blur faces or license plates across the board. So at one particular strip club in Boston, for example, you can still read the license plate on the shiny black Lexus parked in front. And at Boston's Planned Parenthood clinic, you might recognize the young woman apparently heading in, or the anti-abortion protester caught by Google trespassing too close to the door; that did not escape the notice of clinic spokesman Angus McQuilken.

And you recognize this picture?

Mr. ANGUS McQUILKEN (Planned Parenthood): Yes. That's - he's one of our regulars.

SMITH: Caught in the act.

Mr. McQUILKEN: Yes. And what they captured there was a piece of history.

SMITH: It is just a single snapshot in time, but between the zillions of them Google's got online, some people will inevitably get in trouble with the law or a wife or a boss. Some, like Bob Anderson, take it in stride.

Mr. ANDERSON: There's no guarantee of privacy in our society nowadays. There are video cameras everywhere. As a matter of fact, it makes me feel a little bit safer knowing that, you know, if something were to happen, chances are it would be caught on tape.

SMITH: Ultimately, it won't end with Google's Street View. Other sites are already going further, offering virtual views even inside businesses like dentists' offices and restaurants.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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