Google announced on Thursday what the company terms the "biggest ever update" to its popular and controversial Street View map imagery Web-based service.
Google has doubled the number of Street View special collections and has updated imagery of more than 250,000 miles of roads, the company said in a blog post.
Street View coverage has been broadened in 11 countries, including the U.S., Sweden, the U.K., Italy and Singapore, and special collections have been launched for South Africa, Japan, Spain, France, Brazil, Mexico and other countries.
Street View, a feature of Google Maps, gives users continuous, panoramic, ground-level images of map sections, letting people virtually explore neighborhoods, including even the inside of some buildings, like museums, restaurants and stores. However, the service has often been criticized over personal privacy and national security concerns, and for those reasons has been challenged in court by groups and individuals and limited by the governments of some countries.
Google's biggest Street View controversy erupted in May 2010, when the company disclosed that for years the cars used to take the photos had also collected data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks whose signals they detected. This data included networks' names (SSIDs) and their routers' unique identifying numbers (MAC), website traffic logs, text of email messages and user names and passwords.
In the latest upgrade, Street View users can take virtual strolls through Russia's Catherine Palace and Ferapontov monastery, Taiwan's Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Vancouver's Stanley Park and the interior of Kronborg Castle in Denmark, where Shakespeare's "Hamlet" takes place. "You can even walk through the urban jungle of Singapore's Fort Canning Park, without ever leaving home," Ulf Spitzer, Street View program manager, wrote in the blog post.
Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.