Our Digitized Earth: A world map of Google Street View coverage

November 2, 2012

Source: https://code.google.com/p/gmaps-samples

Google Street View, a Google maps function that gives a ground-level, stereoscopic view of your local roads, has grown exponentially since its 2007 launch. The service now covers over 5 million miles of the world's roads, an amazing amount of data. 

The above map shows where in the world Google has collected and published street view data, and where it hasn't. It's both a stunning visualization of how much of the globe has been converted into Google Street View data, and an interesting glimpse of where it hasn't.  

In a way, this map is a reflection of Google's global market, itself an indication of which parts of the world are and are not economically developed and technologically wired. Think of it as an imperfect but revealing map of who's plugged in to top-level web functionality and who isn't. 

Who is excluded from this map is as interesting as who's included. Maybe the most striking exclusion is China, where Internet usage is skyrocketing but the state retains tight control over popular web services such as search. (The Communist Party is probably also not crazy about the idea of Google street view cars flashing thousands upon thousands of publicly available photos of their country's every nook and cranny.)

There's another striking, sort-of absence: Germany. Here's a zoomed-in map of Europe's street view coverage:

Germans, both government officials and Internet users, have been pushing back pretty hard on Google street view and other web services they see as collecting too much privacy-infringing data. Individual residents are allowed to request their address be removed from coverage, which a lot of them did. In April 2011, Google abandoned its street view coverage of Germany entirely, though it's kept the images it had collected so far. Still, comparing the Germany-sized hole in the Europe map to the world map above, it's striking how few societies have opted out of being pixelated searchable, publicly available image data.

As Google Street View collects more and more information, it will be interesting to see if any other states seek German-style exceptions from the coverage. So far, not many are.

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Max Fisher | November 2, 2012