You too can Google the neighborhood

If area Internet junkies are not satisfied with the bird’s-eye view of their street that’s been avai
PHOTOGRAPHER:

If area Internet junkies are not satisfied with the bird’s-eye view of their street that’s been available for some time, they can now sweep like Spider-Man down to street level and take a virtual walk.

Who knows? If you were out mowing the lawn last summer when a silent camera swept by, you might be immortalized.

In the latest in a long line of gee-whiz things on the Internet, Google unveiled its Street View option last year on its maps.google.com site, featuring ground-level views of nearly every street in a number of big cities.

Google Street View

To check out Google Street View, click here.

On Tuesday, eight more areas, including Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga Springs and Amsterdam, were added.

That means anyone can click on the maps and zip down to street level, pulling up pictures of houses, businesses and even people walking by.

They are all as they were when the photos were taken, mostly last summer.

Chuck Steiner, president of The Chamber of Schenectady County, responded to the site Tuesday, when showed by a reporter.

He saw opportunities instantly, for travelers, as well as businesses.

“Thinking of myself, I drive a lot by sight. Now there’s something besides directions, you have a picture to go by,” Steiner said.

Google quietly rolled out the new feature Tuesday, simply adding it as a feature to Capital Region maps.

On its blog, Google notes that Albany and Schenectady were among a dozen new cities added to the feature, effectively doubling its capability.

Google officials did not respond to inquiries Tuesday, but it has been reported that the feature is made by a vehicle driving the streets with a 360-degree camera on top.

Locally, a car was used. Its reflection can be seen in several buildings, including windows on the Broadway side of the Bow Tie Cinema in downtown Schenectady and in shop windows at Stuyvesant Plaza in Guilderland.

Exactly when the photos were taken wasn’t clear Tuesday, but clues in the photographs suggest many were taken in August 2007.

The big clue is the Proctors marquee. It notes upcoming movies, playing Aug. 21 and Aug. 23. The Scotia Cinema is playing summer blockbuster “Transformers” in its photo.

Another clue is the site of an October 2006 fire at 832 Lincoln Ave. The site was cleaned up in July 2007. The site is cleaned up in the Street View photo.

In other examples, the Brandywine Avenue school, destroyed by fire Nov. 16, is intact. The Barrett Street home that collapsed two weeks later is also intact.

PRIVACY ISSUES

The feature was first offered nearly a year ago, starting with Google’s home of San Francisco and expanding from there.

It raised the ire of privacy advocates. People are seen going about their daily routine, walking down the street and driving their cars.

San Francisco’s Street View appears to be more powerful than the Capital Region’s version. Users can zoom in on photos and regularly see people’s faces. Even street signs can be read.

Internet users, being who they are, found several interesting images, including people walking out of adult bookstores.

In the Capital Region version, faces normally can’t be discerned, but people can be seen. In a benign example, a man and woman can be seen waiting to cross State Street at Proctors in downtown Schenectady and people can be seen walking down Craig Street near the Boys and Girls Club.

In a more risque example, a man is seen exiting a Schenectady County adult shop, walking toward some cars.

Anyone seen on the service, either their person or their cars, wouldn’t have much to complain about legally if they were concerned, however, said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government and an expert in such areas.

Anyone can legally take photos from the street.

“Anybody can drive by or walk by,” he said. “If someone doesn’t want to be seen going out of a porn shop, they shouldn’t be going into a porn shop.”

Web sites, however, have reported long procedures in which Google can be petitioned to remove photos.

Individual homes are also seen. One of the first things many people did Tuesday, when told of the site, was to look up their own house.

Freeman said there shouldn’t be much concern about that, either.

“Anybody can drive by my house. Who cares?” he said. “Mine’s the one with the basketball hoop.”

That was one of the first things Schenectady Fire Chief Robert Farstad did when told about it Tuesday.

He said he could see one possible use in training to respond to a building, like Ellis Hospital. But the age of the data would hinder many uses.

“That is cool,” Farstad said. But, bringing it back to official use, “the big thing is it’s old data.”

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