KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 29 — Google has finally launched its much-awaited Street View feature in Malaysia, all of six years after its inception, beginning with the publication of 18 privately-owned places of interest in the capital Kuala Lumpur.
Speaking to the media yesterday, Sajith Sivanandan, country manager of Google Malaysia, said some examples of the 18 iconic sites include Taman Tasik Titiwangsa, Batu Caves Sri Subramaniam Temple, Masjid Sultan Sallahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah and the Penang War Musuem.
He said that with the launch of Street View in Malaysia, Google will also begin collecting 360-degree panoramic street-level and road imagery taken from public spaces, starting with Kuala Lumpur.
Google Street View allows people to virtually explore and navigate a neighbourhood on Google Maps by giving them the ability to view an all-round panoramic street-level snapshot of surrounding areas within Google Maps.
Images are collected using a variety of ways, including the Street View Car, a specialised car mounted with cameras; the Street View tricycle, a bicycle mounted with cameras; the Street View Trolley, a pushcart camera system; and the Street View Trekker, a backpack-mounted camera system used by a person to capture pedestrian images.
Sajith said that the Street View system captures GPS (Global Positioning Satellite), speed and direction information aside from image data.
Once these pictures are taken, Google will stitch the pictures together, apply image-processing algorithms to smoothen them and to create a complete picture of the views captured before uploading onto Google Maps for viewing, he added.
The feature first appeared in the Google’s online mapping software in the United States in 2007. Since then, Street View has been made available in more than 50 countries and in more than 60 languages, according to the search giant.
Queried as to why it took more than six years for Street View to finally be available in Malaysia, given that neighbouring Singapore has had this feature since 2009 and Thailand last year, Sajith did not reply directly, noting only this was “a glass-half empty view to take.”
“I like to look at it this way: In six years, it’s incredible that we covered 50 countries and counting,” he said. “There is a lot of computational work that goes into Street View and we’ve literally driven millions of miles to be able to do this.
“You could also argue that we’ve gotten better and better at it since we’ve started — so frankly, when we come to Malaysia in 2013, we’re getting the best learning we’ve collected over the last six years.”
Pressed further as to whether there is a rollout plan to which Google adheres, Sajith acknowledged there was, but declined to elaborate, noting only that for Google, “it’s really about being able to do this wherever it can and as quickly as possible.”
“Our mission is to organise the world’s information and to make it universally accessible and useful,” he said. “So from our perspective, we want to do this wherever it’s possible and wherever it’s allowed.”
On when the capturing of street-level images will be completed for Malaysia, Sajith said there is no fixed timetable for Google to complete this, as this exercise will be an ongoing process.
He also declined to state how many teams were on ground to capture images or what is the manpower needed to fulfil such a labour-intensive task.
“We have a few cars at the moment and it’s hard for us to tell if we can complete this by such and such a time,” he said. “It takes us a few months to be able to take the pictures, process them and make them available on Google Maps, but what I can say is that they [images captured] will be continuously refreshed.”
Asked what other countries Google planned to introduce Street View to, Sajith said data collection has begun in Indonesia and Cambodia, with other Asean countries to follow.
Privacy issues addressed
One of the challenges that has dogged Google Street View centres on privacy and security issues. In its early days of deployment in 2007, Google was accused of collecting images of people, and places, without their knowledge.
In a USA Today article, Kevin Bankston, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that he was surprised to see his face on Google Street View, and that the system has the ability to allow users viewing San Francisco to zoom in close enough to read street signs and even see inside front windows.
But according to Sajith, Google has learnt a lot from its past mistakes and gave an assurance that these issues are no longer present. He also added that the search giant takes privacy very seriously.
“Back in 2010, we had issues like unintentionally collecting data over WiFi, practices that we’ve since stopped,” he said.
“Since then, we have put in place a lot of measures to ensure that these things will not happen again and we’re following all these processes when collecting data here in Malaysia.”
Sajith also claimed that Google now has in place some stringent security practices to ensure that the privacy of citizens will be protected at all times.
“We take Street View images only in public areas and not private ones, and these images are not taken in real-time,” he said.
“We also have technology that effectively blurs human faces, licence plates or any other personal identifiable information that can be seen.
“Also, we are extremely responsive to any request received from users to further blur any images that feature them by submitting a request via the ‘report a problem’ tool available on the bottom right corner of Google Maps,” he added.
Meanwhile, Tourism Malaysia director-general Mirza Mohammad Taiyab, who was at the launch, said that Google’s mapping technology will offer various benefits and help his organisation create a new experience of Malaysia online.
“We have always embraced technology [in Tourism Malaysia],” he said in his keynote address before officiating the launch. “Through this partnership with Google, we hope to engage more people in discovering and rediscovering the unique heritage of our country.” — Digital News Asia