Here's one to get the privacy advocates jumping up and down...
Google has announced a pilot scheme to extend its popular (and controversial) StreetView service in Google Maps by including photography of business interiors.
"When customers are searching for the right local business, the setting, facilities, ambiance, merchandise, layout, or decor can be important factors in choosing where to go," explained Arjun Raman, engineering project manager on Google Maps. "If you want to find the perfect romantic restaurant for your anniversary dinner, you’ll want to find a place that has the right atmosphere. Or if you need to find a new gym, you’ll probably want to see what sort of equipment and amenities they offer. Place Pages currently feature images from business owners and third-party sources, but we wanted to supplement those with additional photos taken by Google photographers to provide consumers with more ways to get a sense of what awaits them when they step through the door of a business."
Contentious as this might be, Google is taking a number of logical steps with its approach. Firstly it will work directly with each local business owner to arrange a time to do the photo shoot - there's no ambush with a cameraphone. Secondly along with pictures of layout, facilities and merchandise it will also add shots of the storefront, accessibility information and menus (if applicable) as well as including business opening hours, rating decals and credit cards accepted. Thirdly, this will be done at no cost to the store owner. Test shots are shown above and below.
Google says it is currently running a trial of this service in 30 cities around the US, Australia and Japan. Restaurants, cafes, hotels, spas, salons, gyms and retail stores are its focus for now and interested store owners can apply at the link below.
Naturally enough there will be further outrage from some about the idea of further Google 'snooping', but store interiors are places open to the public and I do think it could prove handy and also provide a consistency of experience to the somewhat hit and miss approach of user uploads in Google Places.
Google may be on the path to world domination and history may prove this to be the tipping point, but I'm prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt on this.