Tricycle lumbers about UK in search of perfect Google view

Off-road trike-cameras 'will not snoop'

by Tom Henry   July 14, 2009  

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A 114-kg ‘supertrike’, complete with mounted 360-degree camera, has been brought into operation to help map the next stage of Google’s extensive and controversial ‘Street View’ service.

The internet company is heading off the beaten track with the robust trike to capture UK landmarks and historic sights that might not be easily viewed from a car.

Google said that the rickshaw-style tricycles recently arrived in Britain, and will spend the next few weeks capturing a number of famous locations, including Stonehenge, the Angel of the North and Loch Ness. The spots were chosen after thousands of people voted for them in a public poll.

Hundreds of thousands logged on to Street View when it went live earlier this year. But campaigners began a legal action against it, claiming that the images were an invasion of privacy. Although the action was unsuccessful, Google did take down hundreds of pictures, including a man vomiting on a pavement, one leaving a sex shop and another being arrested.

“Off-road, Google must show even greater respect for privacy that on the street,” said Tom Brake MP, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman. “If they don’t, they may capture more than they bargained for as they pedal silently along our remotest lanes and cycleways.”

Google has denied the trike-mounted cameras will snoop into homes, saying that the focus was on public landmarks.

“The trike is only going to be used for interesting tourist spots, not heading down boring, narrow streets,” said a Google spokesperson. “Later on, it could be used on pedestrianised high streets, but only with approval.”

The UK launch of Street View was delayed for months because of Britain’s rainy climate, as Google’s cameras only work in fine weather. Only if the forecast remains clear will the Google trike be able to capture the tourist destinations before the summer is out.