Google will launch a New Zealand edition of its controversial Street View application within the next few months after agreeing to protect the identity of people filmed in public places, following talks with the privacy commissioner.
The free software lets internet users "walk" down city streets and view photos of the scene from any angle on their computer screens.
Street View has encountered opposition in Europe and North America, because pedestrians and vehicles can be made out in some pictures. There are fears Street View could be used to plan burglaries.
Google's spokesman in Sydney, Rob Shilkin, says it takes the privacy concerns seriously.
"We have been liaising with regulators and groups in New Zealand. We will be blurring faces, licence plates won't be identifiable and there is a very easy system for anyone to report imagery that they feel is inappropriate."
Privacy commissioner Marie Shroff accepts Street View may unsettle some people, but says Google has made an effort to inform her of its plans and think through the privacy implications.
"I have been pleased to see that, as a result, Google has taken active steps to better protect individual privacy.
"I note that there is to be an 'image removal tool'. That is, in effect, a request to Google to remove a particular image. If individuals are concerned about the way Street View seems to be operating, they can contact this office."
Mr Shilkin is confident Street View will be received enthusiastically. "Lots of groups are really excited, from tourism organisations and real estate agents to geography teachers – all of whom will find it an incredibly useful product."
Streets in dozens of American cities have been covered so far and Google launched Street View in France and Italy last month.
Mr Shilkin won't say how much of New Zealand has already been filmed. Google has stated that its ultimate goal is to provide street views of the "entire world".
In January, Wellington mapping firm Terralink kicked off its own project to film the scene from the length of all 144,000 kilometres of roads in New Zealand over the next two years, using a van equipped with six cameras strapped to its roof.
Unlike Google, Terralink does not plan to make its entire database available free online. Instead, it hopes to sell its imagery to government agencies, utilities and emergency services.
Terralink managing director Mike Donald says its purpose in capturing the imagery is different from Google's. Terralink's imagery will be used to support a "second-generation" of "SatNav" vehicle navigation systems that will record the radius of every bend and the slopes of roads, and which will store the location of traffic signs and show photos of them on-screen.
"We will be looking at taking some of the video information into some business- to-business applications for the real estate, banking and finance sectors. The real difference is ours is tied to a lot of other data, such as property and land information.
"It is another layer of our New Zealand master map database, which has 56 different layers of information – ours is not just a case of 'put it up on a website and have a look at it'."
- The Dominion Post