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Street View on Google Maps

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Street View on Google Maps is a tool developed by Google to be used in conjunction with Google Maps (also available to download on Uptodown). With it, you can see a photographic representation of the area where you are.

All you need to do is activate the application and you&#;ll have a photo of the area you have selected on your smartphone. The app is especially useful to find places within an area where you&#;d like to go, but are unfamiliar with.

Street View on Google Maps usually comes installed on all Android devices, but it is better to check and make sure you have it on your phone. You never know when you&#;ll need it.
Reviewed by Andrés López Translated by Molly Lincoln

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Google Street View – millions of panoramic images on Google Maps that have served as a delightful time-guzzler for us over the years – announced a fundamental change in its data collection process late last year. The updated Street View app on Android now allows anybody to collect contribute a series of connected images of a street or path.

Earlier, the onus of collecting images fell primarily on Google’s iconic Street View cars that have collected more than billion images from 10 million miles around the planet. Additionally, business owners or real estate agents could also capture and publish Street View imagery using special (read expensive) degree cameras.

But now, anyone with an ARCore compatible smartphone can create their own connected Street View photos and help Google to fill in the gaps on Maps much more rapidly. Here’s how:

  1. Open the Street View app on your Android phone or tablet and tap the Create button at the bottom
  2. Choose the Connected Photos option and tap Info Information to verify your GPS coordinates – an essential step to collect Street View data
  3. Position your phone straight ahead and tap Capture. For the best experience, capture imagery in landscape mode
  4. Details will flash on either side of the Capture button as you capture imagery
  5. Tap Stop when you’re done

You will find the captured images under the Profile tab at the bottom. You can select the images you want to upload to Street View and tap Publish. Google will need some time (<24 hours) to process the images before making them publicly available.

“Where people contribute connected photos, they will appear in the Street View layer on Google Maps as dotted blue lines—simply drag Pegman around to find them. Where we have existing Google Street View imagery, we’ll show that as the primary Street View experience with a solid blue line,” explains Stafford Marquardt, Product Manager, Google Maps Street View.

Google is betting on crowdsourced Street View imagery to make Google Maps more accurate and up-to-date. “We can use the information in Street View imagery to update Google Maps with details like the names and addresses of businesses that aren’t currently on the map and maybe even their publicly posted open hours.”

All use contributed content will also be checked for authenticity and appropriateness under Google’s ‘Maps User Contributed Content Policy’. “We’ll also give these connected photos the same privacy controls, including face and license-plate blurring treatment that you see in the regular Street View photos that Google captures. We also make it easy for people to report imagery and other types of contributed content for review,” sums up Marquardt.

Ishveena Singh

Ishveena is a geospatial enthusiast and a freelance technology writer who has been named among Geospatial World's 50 Risings Stars With 13 years of mainstream journalism and digital content writing experience, Ishveena is passionate about bringing to the fore the value of location technology to the economy and society. Her clients include GIS corporations, proptech companies, fintech leaders, and some of the world's top drone manufacturers and service providers.

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Explore world landmarks, discover natural wonders and step inside locations such as museums, arenas, restaurants and small businesses with Google Street View.

Also create photo spheres to add your own Street View experiences. Start with your phone’s camera or add a one-shot spherical camera (like the Ricoh Theta V or S) for easy º photography. Then, you can publish to Google Maps to share your photo spheres with the world.

Content galleries:
• Browse – or be notified of – Google’s newest special collections
• Explore all of Street View (including contributions from others)
• Review your public profile of published photo spheres
• Manage your private photo spheres

Creating and sharing photo spheres:
• Use your phone’s camera (no camera accessories required)
• Connect to a spherical camera to capture in one tap
• Share to Google Maps as immersive photo spheres
• Share privately as flat photos

Continued use of GPS running in the background can dramatically decrease battery life.


Updates text in several dialogs, and various bug fixes and improvements.

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The developer, Google LLC, indicated that the app’s privacy practices may include handling of data as described below. For more information, see the developer’s privacy policy.

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The following data may be collected but it is not linked to your identity:

Privacy practices may vary based on, for example, the features you use or your age. Learn More


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The Google Maps Anomaly Iceberg Explained

It can take years for Google Maps to update certain features — here's how they get the data to update Street View, traffic, and more

  • Google Maps makes small updates every day, but Street View and other real-life maps might only update every few years.
  • Some Google Maps features, like traffic and directions, can update in real-time.
  • How often Google Maps updates in your city depends on how many people live near you.
  • Visit Insider's Tech Reference library for more stories.

From live traffic reports to high-quality satellite images, Google Maps has dozens of features that change and update regularly. 

But updating every map every day would take trillions of dollars by itself — this means that while some users will notice new updates often, other users might have to wait years for new content.

Insider reached out to Google to ask how often they update five major Google Maps features: Street View, satellite images, street names and routes, business names and information, and traffic and road closures.

Here's everything to know about how often Google updates, including what it might mean if you're not seeing updates near you.

How often does Google Maps update?

There's one general rule to Google Maps' updates: Places where more people live get updated more often. In a Maps blog, Google Maps' Technical Program Manager Matt Manolides says that "Overall [their] goal is to keep densely populated places refreshed on a regular basis." 

In other words, while New York City might receive updates every week, the deep forests of northern Maine might go years without.

But as we'll go over below, individual users have a surprising amount of influence over the maps in their area.

Street View

Street View — the feature that lets you see actual on-the-ground photos of nearly any location in the US and beyond — is possibly Google Maps' most famous feature. According to Google, it's also one of the most difficult features to keep up-to-date.

In general, Google tries to take new Street View photos in major cities once every year. Less populated areas can probably expect new photos every three years or so — but don't be surprised if it takes even longer. 

Quick tip: If you're using Street View on the Google Maps website, you can see exactly when the current picture was taken by looking at the bottom-right corner of the screen.

A Google Maps Street View shot of Zuccotti Park in New York City.
Google; William Antonelli/Insider

Although it's not heavily advertised, the Street View team actually keeps a public list of places they plan to visit in dozens of countries across the world. You can find that list in the Where we're headed section of this webpage. 

Just be aware that the dates they give are broad estimates — don't expect an exact day and time. And even if Google takes new photos of your town, they might not use them if the old ones are still accurate.

A list of all the places that Google plans to take Street View photos at.

Satellite images

Although it's not active by default, you can set Google Maps to show you real overhead imagery of any location on Earth. 

These pictures are taken by both satellites and airplanes flying overhead, and are then "stitched together" to make maps. This process takes a massive amount of time and work from humans and machines alike. 

Like with Street View, Google prioritizes updating "the places that are changing the most," says Manolides. This means that big cities should see updates every year, medium-sized cities every two years, and it could take three years or longer for more obscure areas. 

A map of Manhattan, shown in both satellite and non-satellite views.

And of course, Google doesn't update the entire world in one go. They generally release new satellite data every month, adding whichever images they have ready to go.

Occasionally, Google will release new satellite imagery ahead of schedule to mark special occasions. For example, they uploaded new photos of London right at the start of the London Summer Olympics that showed off the new arenas.

Since the majority of Google's overhead images come from third-party sources — "state agencies, geological survey organizations, and commercial imagery providers," as Google communications director Peter Schottenfels wrote in a recent blog — there's no exact schedule for when the updates go live.

A shot of Google Maps' satellite view, with the credits for who took the satellite photos highlighted.

Street names and routes

Google Maps is built to show you all the streets nearby and give accurate directions from one place to another. But with thousands of cities across the world and even more roads, making sure everything stays up-to-date is a big job.

Google receives data about streets and roads from a variety of sources. These are mostly government agencies like the United States Geological Survey. But they also accept data from local governments, housing developers, and more. When they visit cities to take pictures, the Street View team also makes note of when real life doesn't match what they have on the map.

This means there's not an easy way to predict when streets and roads will be updated. If these third-party agencies are on top of things, new roads and street names should appear quickly. But it's largely up to them to report the changes to Google.

If you find that a street doesn't match what Google Maps is showing — maybe it's got the wrong name, or doesn't have the right shape — you can report it to Google yourself. On the website, you can use the Edit the map feature to report misdrawn, misnamed, or even missing roads. You can also right-click the offending road and select Report a data problem.

A screenshot of Google Maps. The user has right-clicked the map, and the "Report a data issue" option is highlighted.
Google; William Antonelli/Insider

Google will review your submission and compare it to their data. If they find that you're right, they'll change it on Google Maps. They take submissions from anyone, but they prioritize reports from Local Guides.

Business names and information

When you open Google Maps, chances are you'll immediately see the names of dozens of nearby businesses. Select one of them, and you'll probably see what it sells, its hours of operation, and reviews.

Unlike other pieces of data, Google rarely updates this information themselves. Instead, they rely on the businesses to upload their own information. If you're the owner of a new business or location, you should sign up for a Google Business account and give them your information to put on the map.

But like with street names and routes, any user can report an error. When you find a business with the wrong information, click or tap the Suggest an edit button to submit the right info. Google will review it and update the map if you're right.

The Google Maps info page for Madison Square Garden, with the "Suggest an edit" option highl
Google; William Antonelli/Insider

Once an error is reported, Google usually corrects it within a week.

Traffic and road closures

When you ask for directions on Google Maps, it should tell you exactly how much traffic you should expect, how busy the place you're going to is, and any routes that are closed along the way. 

This all updates in real-time, faster than any other feature. And to do this, Google collects data from a wealth of different sources.

Whenever you have Google Maps (or Waze, another Google navigation app) open, unless you've specifically disabled the feature, you're sending anonymous location data to Google. The more people with Google Maps open in one place, the busier Google knows it is. 

This is also how they calculate traffic: If a hundred phones with Google Maps open are traveling 60 miles per hour and then suddenly stop all at once, Google knows there's a traffic jam.

A screenshot from the Google Maps app, with a navigation course plotted out from Manhattan to Coney Island.

And once enough data is collected, Google can use machine learning to predict patterns. For example, Google doesn't need new data to tell you that the Brooklyn Bridge gets crammed with traffic at rush hour — it's happened thousands of times before, so they can predict it'll happen again.

Users contribute information actively, too. If you've ridden the New York City subway enough, you're probably used to Google Maps asking you how crowded it is — they do this so they can report the info to other users.

The Google Maps info page for Rockefeller Center, showing how busy it is.

Local governments generally report long-term road closures to Google themselves. But Google also learns from user reports, either on Google Maps or Waze.

If you're in a high-population area, you should expect Google's real-time traffic stats to be incredibly accurate.

William Antonelli

Editor & Staff Writer for Tech Reference


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Google Maps, Google Earth, and Street View

If you want to use one of these products in your work, review these guidelines to see if your specific use is allowed and whether you need to submit a request for approval.

General guidelines

You generally don’t need to submit a request to use our mapping products for the purposes covered in these guidelines. As long as you’re following our Terms of Service and these guidelines, as well as attributing properly, feel free to move forward with your project. But do continue to read these guidelines thoroughly to make sure your use is permitted. If your use isn’t allowed, we’re not able to grant exceptions, so please don’t submit a request.

For commercial uses where our mapping products are used for revenue-generating purposes, such as integrating Google Maps or Street View into a mobile or web app, use Google Maps Platform instead.

Copyright fair use

Your use of our content may be acceptable under principles of fair use (or other similar concepts in other countries). Fair use is a concept under copyright law in the U.S. that, generally speaking, permits you to use a copyrighted work in certain ways without obtaining a license from the copyright holder. Google can’t tell you if your use of this content would be fair use. You may wish to obtain your own legal advice.

Personalizing your map

You may annotate our maps with additional information – like points, lines, or labels. In fact, many of our tools have built-in features that make it easy to do just that. For example, Google My Maps lets you draw lines and shapes on a Google map. We also offer a Styling Wizard and a cloud-based styling tool that allow you to edit the colors of individual map components (for example, changing water to purple), as well as toggle visibility for each component (for example, making roads invisible).

If neither of those fit your needs, you may export an image from Google Earth or Earth Studio, or capture a screenshot from Google Maps, to add custom labels or graphics using third-party software.

While we encourage annotations, you must not significantly alter how Google Maps, Google Earth, Earth Studio, or Street View would look online. For example, you’re not allowed to make any changes to the colors of the product interface or remove attribution.

For Google Earth and Earth Studio content, you’re not allowed to significantly alter our imagery without providing clear context that it’s a simulation, projection, or fictional content.

Use of trademarks

Our trademarks are our valuable assets, and we want to make sure our users and partners use them correctly. These trademarks include the Google Earth word mark, Google Maps word mark, Google Earth logo, Google Maps logo, Google Maps red pin element, Street View word mark, Street View icon, Pegman word mark, the Pegman logo, Local Guides icon, and the Plus Codes logo.

You may use our trademarks to accurately refer to our products or services, as long as such references are appropriate and consistent with our trademark guidelines. You may only use approved versions of our marks, and you must follow all of the general trademark usage guidelines, the Google Maps Platform Terms of Service, and the Street View Trusted badge usage guidelines. The trademark usage guidelines apply even to marks that were previously (but are no longer) used in connection with our products.

Refer to our brand elements guidelines for more information about using our icons, logos, and names.

Google Maps


You may print Google Maps content for non-commercial or personal use (for example, a map with directions). In all uses where you’ll distribute printed materials that include the content, first be sure to read the general guidelines above, especially with regard to fair use and attribution.

Even if your use isn’t covered by fair use or some other doctrine, you can still use our content without submitting a request as long as you follow these guidelines. Note that we’re not able to grant exceptions to these rules.

Go for it


Inside of books, including textbooks (up to 5k copies)


Periodicals (Newspapers, magazines, journals, etc.)


Business documents such as company reports, proposals, presentations, etc.


Supplemental navigational use in printed promotional materials, such as business cards, pamphlets, handouts, flyers, etc. (up to 5k copies)

Example: A local dentist’s office using a small map at the bottom of a mail ad to show where it’s located


Print links to a Google Maps location, such as with short links or QR codes

don’t do this


Inside of books (more than 5k copies), or as cover art for a book


Used as the core part of printed navigational material (for example, tour books or guide books).


Consumer & retail goods or packaging (t-shirts, beach towels, shower curtains, mugs, posters, stationery, etc.)


Primary or creative use in printed promotional or advertising materials:

Example: A full-page magazine ad for a car company using a Google Maps screenshot to show how far the car can travel

Web and apps

If you simply need to embed a Google map on your website, you don’t need our permission. You’re also welcome to link to Google Maps with text or a button on your website, such as “View on Google Maps” or “Open with Google Maps.”

If you need more integrated uses of our products for commercial use, we have multiple APIs available through Google Maps Platform to help you build and embed custom maps for your website or mobile app. When using these APIs, certain restrictions may apply.

If you’d like to use our content in a digital advertisement, please first review the general guidelines, especially with regard to attribution. Any use of Google Maps in digital advertisements must not significantly alter how the products and imagery would look online. See Personalizing your map for specifics.

Television and film

If you’re using Google Maps for film or television (including streaming services) – for example, if an actor uses Google Maps on a phone, or an interview subject demonstrates how they used Google Maps in their research – you should submit your project for approval according to the guidelines on the Entertainment and Media page.

Online video

If you’re using Google Maps content in an online video (e.g. YouTube) primarily for educational, instructional, recreational, or entertainment purposes, you don’t need to request permission – but you must still follow our general guidelines and attribute properly.

If you’re using Google Maps in an online video advertisement or for promotional purposes (e.g. a real estate company showing where rental properties are available), submit your project for approval according to the guidelines on the Entertainment and Media page. Only standard Google Maps imagery may be used for this purpose, since Satellite View imagery falls under the same commercial restrictions as Google Earth.

Google Earth

Google Earth or Earth Studio can be used for purposes such as research, education, film and nonprofit use without needing permission.


You may print Google Earth content for non-commercial or personal use, with some restrictions as noted below. In all uses where you’ll distribute printed materials that include the content, first be sure to read the general guidelines above, especially with regard to fair use and attribution.

As long as you follow these guidelines, you don’t need to submit a request. Note that we’re not able to grant exceptions to these rules.

Go for it


Inside of books, including textbooks (up to 5k copies)


Periodicals (Newspapers, magazines, journals, etc.)


Business documents such as company reports, proposals, presentations, etc.

don’t do this


Inside of books (more than 5k copies), or as cover art for a book


Used as the core part of printed navigational material (for example, tour books or guide books).


Consumer & retail goods or packaging (t-shirts, beach towels, shower curtains, mugs, posters, stationery, etc.)


Used in printed advertisements or promotional materials of any kind (flyers, pamphlets, magazines ads, etc.)

Web and apps

Google Earth may not be embedded online or in apps. However, you’re welcome to export and use a handful of static images, with proper attribution, for non-commercial purposes such as news, blogs, educational, recreational, or instructional use.

don’t do this

You may not use Google Earth imagery on the web for any commercial or promotional purposes, such as, but not limited to:


Real estate listings or company profiles


Construction site locations


Website header or social media banner images


Digital advertisements

don’t do this

You may not use output, or use third party tools to capture output, from Google Earth, Google Earth Pro, or Earth Studio to reconstruct 3D models or create similar content, or to create other content, products, or services that may violate our Terms of Service.

Television, film, and online video

You may use Google Earth and Earth Studio content for news broadcasts, television shows, films, documentaries, music videos, and any educational purposes. You don’t need to submit a request, but you must follow all guidelines on this page and in related resources, especially with regard to on-screen attribution. Google Earth content can never be used without attribution.

Before using Google Earth or Earth Studio, review our License Terms and Terms of Service. We also ask that you register your usage here – we love seeing creative uses of Google Earth and appreciate the insights you share.

This license to use Google Earth and Earth Studio content applies to all types of film regardless of platform (and technology) distributed on, but doesn’t extend to content distributed from or to these territories.

Don’t do this

You may not use Google Earth or Earth Studio content (or Google Maps satellite view imagery) for promotional films, advertisements or commercials. This includes anything used specifically to sell or promote a product, business, or organization. For example, this includes uses such as, but not limited to:


A real estate company showing where their properties are located in a company video


A documentary-style film being used to promote a business or organization


A sports team using Google Earth images of their stadium in a TV commercial

If you’re using Google Earth content in an online video (e.g. YouTube) primarily for educational, instructional, recreational, or entertainment purposes, you don’t need to request permission, even if your work is monetized. But you must still follow our general guidelines and attribute properly.

Street View


Don’t do this

Street View imagery may not be used for any print purposes. This includes:


Books, guidebooks, and textbooks


Magazines, newspapers, and journals


Advertisements or promotional materials of any kind


Consumer or retail goods (posters, t-shirts, mugs, etc.)

Additional restrictions

While we’re excited to see many uses of Street View, there are some use cases that are prohibited, including but not limited to:

don’t do this


Creating data from Street View images, such as digitizing or tracing information from the imagery


Using applications to analyze and extract information from the Street View imagery


Downloading Street View images to use separately from Google services (such as an offline copy)


Merging or stitching together multiple Street View images into a larger image

These restrictions apply to all academic, nonprofit, and commercial projects.

Required attribution

All uses of Google Maps, Google Earth, and Street View content must provide attribution to Google and, if applicable, to our data providers.

We do not approve of any use of content without proper attribution, in any circumstances, and we require attribution while the content is shown. Requests for exceptions will not be answered or granted.

Where do I find the attribution?

You can find the attribution in the line(s) shown on the bottom of the content in our mapping products along with copyright notices, such as “Map data © Google”. Note that the exact text of the attribution changes based on geography and content type.

done Use provided tools

Attribution information will appear automatically on certain types of imagery when using Google-provided tools, such as web embeds, APIs, or exports from Google Earth Pro or Earth Studio. Please use these methods whenever possible.

close Don’t modify the attribution

Don’t remove, obscure, or crop out the attribution information. Note that Google logos cannot be used in-line (for example, “These maps from [Google logo].”)

done Keep the attribution close

If using screenshots of our imagery outside of direct embeds, include the standard attribution as it appears in the image. If necessary, you may customize the style and placement of the attribution text, as long as the text is within close proximity of the content and legible to the average viewer or reader.

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You may not move the attribution away from the content, such as to the end of your book, the credits of your film or show, or the footer of your website.

done Include third-party data providers

Some of the data and images on our mapping products come from providers other than Google. If using such imagery, the text of your attribution must say the name “Google” and the relevant data provider(s), such as “Map data: Google, Maxar Technologies”.

close Don’t give us all the credit

When there are third-party data providers cited with the imagery, only including “Google” or the Google logo is not proper attribution.

View all of our guidance on using Google brand elements

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How To Use Google Maps STREET VIEW on Computer \u0026 Phone!

Applying Google Maps and Google Street View in criminological research

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Crime Sciencevolume 3, Article number: 13 () Cite this article

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Online mapping technologies such as Google Maps and Street View have become increasingly accessible. These technologies have many convenient uses in everyday life, but law enforcement agencies have expressed concern that they could be exploited by offenders and might alter existing offending patterns and habits. For environmental criminologists, they have the potential to open up new approaches to conducting research. This paper draws on the results of earlier studies in related fields and a handful of criminological studies to discuss how these online mapping applications can trigger new research questions, and how they could be considered a valuable methodological addition to criminological research.


Although Google Maps and Street View have not been developed with scientific research in mind, they create interesting possibilities for research. Several scientific disciplines were quick to implement these web mapping applications in their research. For instance, geographers rely on aerial photography from Google Maps as an alternative to expensive commercial satellite imagery (Pringle []) and biologists tap into Street View imagery to assess the habitat of certain animal species (Olea and Mateo-Tomás []). However, while there are abundant examples of studies that apply Google Maps and Street View in related scientific fields, only a few criminological studies have tapped into the power of online mapping technologies for research purposes. Whereas the general public, offenders and law enforcement agencies have already discovered the power of these online mapping services and use them daily, criminologists, somewhat surprisingly, seem not to have fully discovered the advantages of using Google Maps and Street View in their research. In this article I argue that the proliferation of online mapping technologies opens up several new approaches for criminologists to conduct environmental criminological research in particular. A small number of criminological studies have already shown that these technologies can be a valuable addition to environmental criminological research, and this article considers how they might be implemented in future criminological research. Drawing on previous criminological applications, I discuss how the availability of Google Maps and Street View can generate new research questions; and how they could be considered important additions to the methodological toolkit of criminologists.

This article is structured as follows. First, some background information on Google Maps and Street View is provided, and the existing literature in relation to their application in related fields and previous studies is reviewed. Next, several potential uses for these online mapping technologies in environmental criminological research are explored. Third, their advantages and drawbacks are discussed. Fourth, readers are provided with an outline of where to find additional information on how to use these mapping technologies. Fifth, an interesting future development of environmental criminological research that is rooted in the availability of web mapping technologies is identified, and finally several suggestions for further reading are provided.


An introduction to Google Maps and Street View

Google Maps

Originally launched in , Google Maps (Google [c]) is a free-to-use, web-based mapping service that combines conventional cartographic maps with satellite imagery and high-resolution aerial photography. The maps are embedded with additional information on terrain, street and road names, famous landmarks and buildings, public transit, real-time and typical traffic information. Users can conveniently switch between map and satellite view, or opt for a hybrid view that overlays the information available in the map view onto the satellite view (see Figure 1). For a number of cities worldwide, 45° aerial imagery is available allowing users to get a better understanding of the size and proportions of buildings as well as observe certain landmarks from four different perspectives.

Example of hybrid map view with typical traffic information.

Full size image

The available aerial imagery is generally believed to be no older than three years and is updated on a regular basis. Users can update the map data in real time using Google Map Maker (Google [b]) and, following approval, these updates are implemented in Google Maps (Sridharan []). The underlying aerial imagery database also powers Google Earth, a downloadable geographical information program with similar functionalities to Google Maps that allows users to access map data from their desktop. Three-dimensional mapping was also made available in Google Maps in late (McClendon []).

Additional services that are available in Google Maps include Street View, a route planner for driving, public transit, walking and bicycling, and a business locator. Users are also able to create and share custom maps (Liebert []). The custom maps environment (Google [g]) allows users to add additional layers of content such as places, labels, photos, and videos to the underlying Google Maps map. Moreover, users can draw lines, shapes and patterns directly on the map, add directions, and organize and compare up to three different datasets. Once created, custom maps can be shared and users can work together to create a collaborative custom map.

Google Maps has considerably simplified looking up addresses, and has made mapping and cartography accessible to the masses. Over a billion users access Google Maps and its related services such as Street View on a monthly basis (Choudhary []) and the Google Maps mobile app is used at least once a month by more than one in two smartphone users, making it the most popular smartphone app worldwide (Smith []). Essentially, Google Maps is an easy-to-use mapping application that allows its users to locate addresses quickly, and provides cartographic maps augmented with digital information and high-resolution aerial imagery.

Street View

Street Viewa is a service available in Google Maps that supplements the original two-dimensional map view of Google Maps with three-dimensional, ° street-level panoramic imagery (see Figure 2). Launched in in a handful of U.S. cities, Street View currently covers locations on all seven continents (Google [j]). Almost total coverage has been achieved in North America, Australia, Japan and most countries in Europe. Additional Street View imagery is currently being collected in a range of countries.

Example of Street View image.

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Street View imagery is captured through a diverse fleet of vehicles equipped with specialist cameras (Vincent []). After collection, photos are digitally processed and ‘stitched’ together to obtain the familiar ° panoramas. These images are connected to the Google Maps map and embedded with information on the street name and the approximate address. To protect the privacy of bystanders that are inadvertently captured on camera, faces and license plates are pixelated (Google [h]). Users can make additional requests for blurring out images that feature the user, their family, their home or their car, and have tools available to request the removal of inappropriate or sensitive images.

The majority of images currently captured by the Street View fleet is of near high-definition quality (Cawley []). Up to September the images being collected were low resolution, and some areas can therefore only be experienced in Street View in low-resolution quality. In time, the low-resolution imagery will be replaced with higher-resolution photos. Although Street View imagery is intermittently updated and higher-resolution imagery is made available whenever possible, it is unclear how regularly these updates occur. Users can also update the available imagery themselves or supplement it by creating immersive ° views called ‘photo spheres’ (Rapoport []). Once these individual spheres are connected and uploaded to Street View, other users can navigate them just like they would navigate Street View. As of April , users have the option to go back in time and explore historical imagery from past Street View collections dating as far back as (Shet []). Moreover, in a limited number of cities users can virtually visit businesses participating in the Business Photos program (Chang []). Essentially, Street View allows users to explore the real world virtually, without losing the underlying map context provided by Google Maps (Vincent []).

Google Maps and Street View in scientific research

Web mapping technologies have been embraced by disciplines such as geography, archaeology and ecology, but also by several social scientific disciplines. Regardless of the discipline, two particular applications can generally be distinguished. First, Google Maps and Street View have been implemented as convenient tools to reduce the costs and expertise needed to conduct research. Second, a smaller number of studies have shifted their focus towards these applications and treat them as full-grown research subjects in their own right, generating new and significant research questions.

Geography, archaeology, and ecology

Researchers working in the disciplines of geography, archaeology, and ecology quickly incorporated web-based mapping technologies into their research designs, and did so on a relatively large scale. Google Maps in particular has been implemented in a diverse range of studies, although applications of Street View remain more limited.

The freely available satellite images from the Google Maps database have primarily served as inexpensive alternatives to costly commercial satellite imagery. While remote sensing and the use of satellite images are not new in scientific research (e.g., Mertens and Lambin []), the costs and necessary technical expertise required to apply these methods have certainly been reduced with the widespread availability of easy-to-use and inexpensive online mapping applications such as Google Maps (Pringle []; Kennedy and Bishop []). Areas that were previously considered too remote or too expensive to access in person can now be relatively easily surveyed from the researcher’s computer (Myers []; Pringle []). For instance, the Google Maps satellite imagery database has been used to scan large parts of the Arabian peninsula for prehistoric ruins and structures (Kennedy []; Kempe and Al-Malabeh []), to obtain better estimates of fish catches in the Persian Gulf (Al-Abdulrazzak and Pauly []), and to estimate forestry biomass in India (Ploton et al. []). Other studies have tapped into the Google Maps satellite imagery database to map the glacial geomorphology of the central Tibetan plateau (Morén et al. []), and the English Lake District (Brown et al. []).

There are also examples of some rather less conventional applications of online mapping technology. Archaeologists have examined Google’s satellite images to chart the growth of the Guantánamo Bay prison complex, and have provided the public with an independent map of the prison camp (Myers []). Similarly, by analyzing satellite images from the aerial imagery database underlying Google Maps, the looting of archaeological sites across the world has been tracked in order to provide a better understanding of the scale and impact of the problem (Contreras []; Contreras and Brodie []). Other examples include studies that used Google Maps to support and map the process of collaborative spatial decision-making (Rinner et al. []) or to collect spatial information from participants filling in an online questionnaire (Bearman and Appleton []; Snizek et al. []).

Although the number of studies that have implemented Street View so far is limited, Street View has particular advantages for research and is considered a novel and convenient way of obtaining environmental information. Examples include studies in which Street View imagery was a source of information that allowed the habitat of certain animal species to be assessed (Olea and Mateo-Tomás []), or where it served as a tool to map the spatial distribution of a particular population (Rousselet et al. []; Gordon and Janzen []) or to obtain information on pedestrian and road infrastructure (Hanson et al. []; Guo []).

Lastly, some studies have focused on the online mapping technologies themselves. These studies have principally assessed the quality of the information contained in Google Maps and Street View (Paradiso []; Davis and de Alencar []; Wai Yeung et al. []). Attention has also been paid to the usability of web mapping applications from a user’s perspective (Nivala et al. []).

The social sciences

The social sciences have also embraced web mapping technologies, albeit somewhat later and on a smaller scale than the disciplines mentioned above. While applications of Google Maps remain relatively limited in the social sciences, Street View has been implemented in a host of studies and has the potential to become a useful tool for quickly collecting large amounts of data on the built and social environment (Sampson []).

Google Maps is predominantly being applied as a tool to visualize data. It is only sporadically used as a source of geographically relevant information. It has, for instance, been used to map the spatial distribution and interconnectedness of scientific output (Leydesdorff and Bornmann []; Bornmann et al. []; Leydesdorff and Persson []) and to geo-reference poetry in urban spaces (Berry and Goodwin []). Yet there are examples of more innovative applications. Psychologists have used Google Maps to collect information on places visited by participants in a study on daily activity (Wolf et al. []). In addition to keeping a diary of places they visited during the study and being monitored via GPS, participants were required to pinpoint the places they visited in Google Maps. Google Maps can also be a particularly powerful tool to nurture crowdsourced and crowdcasted science, by letting users create and share maps embedded with information on their environment (Hudson-Smith et al. []; Kindynis []; Lefer et al. []). Thanks to such initiatives, social scientists and the general public alike are now able to collect, visualize and share vast amounts of data (Hudson-Smith et al. []) ranging from population density (e.g.,, to the number of violent crimes in a particular area (e.g.,, to the geography of America’s prison industry (e.g.,

A large number of public health studies have looked into the suitability of studying Street View imagery in order to collect data on the built environment. In general, their results suggest that virtually auditing a particular neighborhood is a reliable, cost- and time-effective alternative to actual on-site visits (cf. inter alia Ben-Joseph et al. []; Badland et al. []; Clarke et al. []).

Finally, the substantive aspects of the technology have also been explored. Studies have looked into how Google Maps is being used by students (García-Martín and García-Sánchez []) and the merits it has as a didactic tool in educational settings (Ovidia []; Patterson []). The development of Google Maps has been studied from a political-economic perspective and its implementation has been situated within a historical and broader socioeconomic context (Lee []). Street View has also received substantial attention. The way that Street View represents stigmatized neighborhoods and might contribute to their stigmatization has been criticized (Power et al. []). Other scholars have looked into how the implementation of Street View sparked privacy concerns (Geissler []) and redefined our perception of privacy (Elwood and Leszczynski []).

Google Maps and Street View in environmental criminological research

Only a handful of criminological studies have so far implemented Google Maps and Street View in one way or another in their research designs. This is somewhat surprising, since the general public, offenders and law enforcement agencies have already discovered the advantages online mapping technology offers in their daily life and work. Iraqi and Palestinian militants have admitted to using web-based mapping applications to select possible targets for terrorist attacks (Levinson ). Similarly, graffiti writers and shoplifters in London were found to use Street View to look for new targets (Kindynis []). Burglars are believed to ‘google’ for potential targets and may be using online mapping technologies when casing homes for break-ins (Michaels []). Householders also believe Street View might contribute to burglary (The Telegraph []; Pyatt []; Power et al. []), a concern that is shared by ex-burglars (Sterling []) and police unions (De Tijd []) alike. Interestingly, these applications also offer law enforcement agencies the opportunityb to establish new forms of surveillance and crime control (Kindynis []), while simultaneously empowering ordinary citizens by providing them with new tools to control law enforcement agencies (EURONEWS []) or give expression to their concerns about crime (Hudson-Smith et al. []).

For the few criminological studies that have implemented Google Maps and Street View in their research design, online mapping technologies have either been the object of criminological enquiry or have been used as a methodological tool to help researchers reduce costs and overcome particular difficulties in their research. Drawing on these studies, I discuss two major aspects of Google Maps and Street View in relation to environmental criminological research, namely: how these online mapping applications can generate new research questions; and how they could be considered an important addition to the criminologist’s methodological toolkit.

Mapping out new research questions

Web-based mapping technologies could themselves constitute the object of criminological enquiry — for instance, law enforcement agencies and former burglars share a concern that the availability of Google Maps and Street View helps burglars to prepare for their offenses. It is exactly this concern that Van Daele et al. ([]) scrutinized in a study that examined whether burglars are likely to rely on online mapping technologies to select a suitable target.

Van Daele et al. ([]) set out to examine whether the proliferation of online mapping technologies might contribute to burglary and alter known burglary patterns. First, they explored whether it is likely or not that burglars rely on Google Maps and Street View to search for potential targets. Burglars look for targets in their awareness space (Brantingham and Brantingham []). Before the advent of web-based mapping tools, this awareness space was established while performing routine activities such as traveling to work or visiting friends. This required burglars to visit potential targets beforehand. Now, however, by browsing through Google Maps and Street View burglars can become aware of previously unknown areas and case potential targets. Since Google Maps and Street View enable armchair exploration (McClendon []), the burglar’s awareness space and the number of potential targets are potentially vastly expanded.

Second, Van Daele et al. ([]) examined whether the use of Street View makes burglars rely on different target characteristics than when they select a suitable target on the street. Burglars are known to exhibit some degree of planning (Bennett and Wright []) and pay attention to characteristics of the built environment when selecting a suitable target (Nee and Meenaghan []; Palmer et al. []). Target characteristics are typically observed while walking down the street, but can also be assessed through the imagery available in Street View. Van Daele et al. ([]) therefore argued that it would be logical for burglars to rely on such tools during the planning stage, since it potentially decreases the costs of a burglary by reducing preliminary travel costs and the risks associated with casing a potential target. However, it remains unclear whether the nature of the type of images in Street View (e.g., snapshot, image quality, limited zoom possibility) actually allows them to carry out a detailed assessment of the suitability of a house as a burglary target.

To answer their research questions, Van Daele et al. ([]) recruited undergraduate criminology students who were instructed to select a characteristic burglary target and to give at least three reasons why it is suitable. A quarter of the participants were not given additional instructions and could select their target as they saw fit. The rationale for this choice was to see whether participants would spontaneously use web mapping technologies in their search. A quarter of the participants were asked to select their target on the streets, another quarter was ordered to only use Google Maps and Street View and a final quarter was also limited to Google Maps and Street View but had to take a photograph of the selected house as well. This photograph was added to make the situation correspond more closely to an actual burglary. After all, when a burglar has selected a potential target on Google Maps he still has to visit the house to burglarize it.

Regarding their first research question, Van Daele et al. ([]) conclude that it is fairly unlikely that burglars would make use of Google Maps and Street View on a large scale. Participants that were not given additional instructions on how to select a target did not use these applications spontaneously when looking for targets. Moreover, the participants that used Google Maps and Street View predominantly used them to assess targets in areas they were already familiar with. The availability of online mapping technologies did not result in participants looking for targets outside their awareness space. In other words, participants did not randomly explore Google Maps and Street View until they came across a suitable target. Their pre-established awareness space guided their use of the web mapping applications and determined where they looked for targets in these online tools. In addition, the requirement to take a photograph of the proposed target made participants predominantly look for targets near their starting point (Van Daele et al. []).

Van Daele et al. ([]) also found that participants who used Street View to select a suitable target did not rely on different target characteristics to participants who selected targets on the street. Interestingly, participants who used Google Maps and Street View to select a target paid a considerable amount of attention to the level of accessibility of the neighborhood and street in which the target is located, although they did not pay significantly more attention to accessibility than participants that did not use Google Maps and Street View.

While this study has its limitations — for instance, it is unclear to what extent participants possessed the same level of experience in using web mapping applications and whether non-burglars such as criminology students can replicate burglars’ decisions on potential targets (Garcia-Retamero and Dhami []; Nee and Meenaghan []) — the setup is novel and its conclusions are interesting. Moreover, it is, to my knowledge, the only study that has explored how contemporary web mapping technologies affect crime, and is a prime example of how Google Maps and Street View could become the object of more criminological enquiry. The experiment could potentially be re-created using convicted burglars as subjects, to gain insight into how they make use of these tools, or the experiment could implement additional software that tracks how web-based mapping technologies are used when looking for targets. The introduction of Street View in an area closely resembles a natural experiment and offers the opportunity to conduct observational research. Other potential research questions that could be addressed are, for instance, whether homeowners decide to pixelate their house in Street View in anticipation of or in reaction to burglary victimization and how is this related to their perceived fear of crime? How homeowners’ decisions to pixelate their house affect the chance of burglary victimization? Furthermore, how does offenders’ online searching behavior affect their offline target selection process: does their offline awareness space guide their online searching behavior or do offenders become familiar with previously unknown areas through their online searching behavior? Does the introduction of Street View in an area affect local crime figures? Finally, the recent availability of a time-travelling option in Street View offers researchers a chance to study the effect of changes in features of houses, streets or neighbourhoods on local crime figures and crime prevention policies.

An important addition to the methodological toolkit

In addition to the research questions online mapping technologies might trigger, their availability is a boon to criminologists and Google Maps and Street View could become powerful methodological tools in criminological research (Kindynis []). First, they enable environmental criminologists to collect data on the physical environment, often in a cost- and time-efficient manner. Using Google Maps in environmental criminological research might allow researchers to address some of the drawbacks related to using conventional maps, and Street View seems to be particularly helpful as a tool to remotely collect data on the built environment. Moreover, the many underlying application programming interfaces (API) could reduce the resources required to obtain certain types of information.

Second, the proliferation of online mapping technologies allows to reconsider established practices in environmental criminological research. Moreover, Google Maps constitutes a helpful tool to visualize environmental criminological data and make research results easily accessible to a broad audience.

Data collection

Google maps and conventional maps

Conventional maps have often been used in criminological research to collect data. They are particularly powerful data-gathering instruments when interviewing offenders and can be used to collect information (Summers et al. []). Yet using conventional maps has its disadvantages, and some of these could be addressed by using Google Maps.

Summers et al. ([]) discuss in detail how conventional maps such as hand-drawn sketch maps and standard cartographic maps can be used during offender interviews to tap into information that might not otherwise be revealed. They allow researchers to collect information on the spatial awareness of offenders, explore their activity patterns and look into the spatial distribution of their offenses (see also Canter and Hodge []). Sketch maps drawn by hand are valuable instruments to tap into offenders’ knowledge of their physical environment and the offenses that take place there (Canter and Hodge []). Conventionally, researchers obtain these maps by providing offenders with a pencil and paper and asking them to draw a map of the areas they are familiar with and committed their offenses in. The outcome of researchers’ requests to draw a sketch map is dependent on a range of factors, such as offenders’ ability to understand the task, and the size of the paper provided (Canter and Hodge []; Summers et al. []). The size of paper, for instance, might limit the amount of information that an offender is able to include in a sketch map. Moreover, offenders vary in their drawing ability and it is sometimes particularly difficult for researchers to assess the accuracy of a hand-drawn map and relate it to the cartographic map of the area (Summers et al. []). Interestingly, cartographic maps are not often used by researchers when interviewing offenders, possibly because of the difficulty of selecting the correct scale of map — the map needs to cover a large enough geographical area yet still be readable (Summers et al. []). Even when researchers have given considerable thought to the scale of a map, it might still be too small or not detailed enough to elicit all the relevant information during an offender interview.

The Google Maps environment offers a solution to some of these limitations. In a way, Google’s custom maps allow users to combine sketch maps with cartographic maps. Users can add layers of information to these customized cartographic maps and can use the styling and drawing options to demonstrate underlying patterns or add context where needed. This information can be directly related to the underlying cartographic map, making it easier for researchers to understand how the sketch map is related to the context of the underlying cartographic map. Moreover, users can freely change the scale of the Google Maps map, making the map’s scale less important and eliminating the limitation that the size of the paper introduces to hand-drawn maps. Obviously, using Google Maps will not affect an offender’s drawing ability and researchers will still need to assure participants that they are interested in the information contained in the sketch maps and not in how the maps look (Summers et al. []).

Street view and neighborhood audits

Environmental criminologists have shown, and continue to show, an interest in how physical features of the environment affect human behavior (Bottoms and Wiles []). A variety of methods for obtaining data on the built environment are at the researcher’s disposal, such as self-report surveys, census data, and neighborhood audits (Rundle et al. []). Neighborhood audits, or systematic social observations, are completed in person and on site by trained observers (e.g., inter alia Sampson and Raudenbush []; Day et al. []; Clifton et al. []; Brownson et al. []). They allow a researcher to precisely define the theoretically relevant variables, and assess the reliability and validity of the measures. However, large-scale projects are often unfeasible (for a notable exception see Sampson and Raudenbush []) because of the costs and time required to travel to the study area and conduct the audit (Rundle et al. []; Ben-Joseph et al. []). Moreover, residents may perceive such audits as invasive (Caughy et al. []). A virtual audit of the study area might offer a solution to some of the drawbacks inherent to on-site audits. When carrying out a virtual audit, observers will not travel to the study area in person but will instead browse through the available Street View imagery and virtually walk through the targeted area as they would when visiting the area in person.

A number of public health studies have already looked into the opportunities that Street View offers for collecting data on the built environment, and confirm that audits using Street View imagery offer a convenient and reliable alternative to on-site audits (Wilson and Kelly []; Wilson et al. []; Kelly et al. []; Ben-Joseph et al. []; Odgers et al. []; Badland et al. []; Clarke et al. []; Taylor et al. []; Rundle et al. []; Griew et al. []; Kronkvist []). The results obtained through Street View are generally valid and consistently show acceptable levels of reliability. Street View also offers the potential to greatly reduce costs and time, since the need to travel to the study area is eliminated (Odgers et al. []; Badland et al. []; Clarke et al. []; Taylor et al. []; Rundle et al. []; Griew et al. []; Kronkvist []). Furthermore, researchers have the added convenience that the study area can be re-visited whenever needed — for instance, when more data needs to be collected or when additional supervision or quality control is needed during the data collection phase (Clarke et al. []; Rundle et al. []). In addition, these measurements do not have an impact on local residents (Rundle et al. []).

The major disadvantage of using Street View in environmental audits is that small-scale items, such as the presence of cigarette butts or the condition of sidewalks, cannot be reliably measured, and more qualitative assessments relating to the social environment, such as the general level of social disorder, are not accurately assessed (Kelly et al. []; Ben-Joseph et al. []; Wilson et al. []; Odgers et al. []; Rundle et al. []; Clarke et al. []; Griew et al. []; Kronkvist []). Moreover, it is often unclear whether the images accurately reflect the current on-site situation. The timing of the recording may confound what can be seen. This is especially true for environmental features that are subject to temporal variability (Coupe and Blake []; Nee and Taylor []; Fujita []), such as shrubbery and hedges, the presence of cars on the street and driveway, and whether shutters are closed or lights around the house are on. Finally, the quality of the images sometimes prohibits reliable assessments of detailed features of the built environment (Ben-Joseph et al. []; Badland et al. []; Taylor et al. []; Kronkvist []).

Notwithstanding these disadvantages, it is a promising and viable alternative to on-site audits that can be used in several ways. For instance, researchers could combine online and offline audits in their research design. Initially, online audits could be used to cover a large area, and save money and time. In a follow-up phase, researchers could uses those resources to actually visit the study area. Small-scale items could then be accurately measured and the social environment could be qualitatively assessed. Moreover, online mapping technologies could also be used on-site, while the audit is conducted. Since Google Maps is available on smartphones and tablets, researchers could quickly consult Google Maps to rate certain house features without intruding on the occupants’ privacy (e.g., Does the house have a backyard? How large is the house? Does the garden border other gardens?) or access Street View images and make use of the time-travelling option to check what the street looks like on other times of the day or year. Another example could be to initially geocode certain locations (e.g., police stations, schools and certain local businesses and bars) and when researchers are near a location while conducting the audit they are prompted to answer additional questions or pay attention to specific features.

Finally, Street View has already been successfully used to measure environmental characteristics in environmental criminological research. For instance, in a study of the mechanisms of theft of older cars (Fujita []), Street View imagery allowed the researcher to estimate the number of vehicles parked on street segments in Newark, New Jersey, as well as their make, model and generation. Measures of land use and physical disorder were also obtained by auditing Street View images. Kronkvist ([]) related virtually observed physical disorder to victimization of property crime. Comparisons of self-reported perceived levels of disorder with data on physical disorder collected through Street View indicate that virtual audits yield reliable data on physical disorder and allow to predict neighborhood differences in victimization. Similarly, a Canadian study of the effects of physical and social features on burglary victimization used Street View to virtually assess design features of houses (Apps []). The results from all these studies support the idea that Street View is a reliable tool to collect data on a range of environmental characteristics and that it can be used successfully in an environmental criminological setting.

Google Maps API

Researchers that want to get more out of Google Maps and Street View than the visual interface offers, might want to consider using one of the many underlying APIs. These require researchers to have a basic understanding of programming but allow them to perform a variety of time and resource intensive tasks relatively easily and without cost. For instance, researchers can use the Geocoding API to easily convert address information into precise geographic coordinates that can then be plotted on a map or vice versa. The Places API allows to query the Google database for place information on a variety of categories such as businesses and schools. The result is a list of summary information including location, business hours and price categories. More comprehensive information about a particular place can be accessed by using the Place Details API. Journey-to-crime researchers will be particularly interested in the Directions API and the Distance Matrix API. The former API lets users calculate directions between a set of locations for a range of transport modes including driving and walking. The latter API provides recommended travel distances and times for a matrix of address locations. Google’s API picker (Google [l]) provides a comprehensive overview of the available APIs and suggests the appropriate API for a range of common things that users may want to do in Google Maps or Street View.


Re-assessing established research practices

In addition to the possibilities that Google Maps offers to collect data, it also allows researchers to reconsider established practices in environmental criminological research. An example of this can be found in the study by Caplan et al. ([]) in which they examined the crime-deterring effect of police-monitored CCTV cameras on the streets of Newark, New Jersey, and used aerial imagery from Google Maps to improve the measurement of the line of sight of CCTV cameras.

Caplan et al. ([]) began with the assertion that despite the mixed results of research, CCTV cameras are increasingly being installed in public spaces with the intention to deter crime. They argued that cameras inherently have a limited effect on discouraging crime. First, any deterrence effect will only occur at locations where there is a CCTV camera (Farrington et al. []). Second, in order for a crime-deterring effect to occur, offenders need to be aware of the presence of a camera, and be concerned that it is operating and effectively monitored and that an appropriate response will follow (Farrington et al. []; Caplan et al. []). Moreover, cameras have limited lines of sight, which often creates blind spots (Caplan et al. []) that offenders can exploit. Previous research rarely acknowledged this in research designs and therefore overestimated the crime-deterring effect of CCTV cameras.

Caplan et al. ([]) aimed to improve the previous research in three ways: by investigating the crime-deterring effects of strategically placed and randomly placed CCTV cameras; by demonstrating a new technique for measuring the area that is actually monitored by a particular camera, the ‘viewshed’, more accurately and realistically; and by evaluating the overall effectiveness of CCTV cameras for deterring particular types of crime at certain types of place. Their second aim constitutes an excellent example of how the availability of Google Maps allows criminologists to re-assess common research practices.

In order to correctly assess the crime-deterring effect of CCTV cameras, the viewshed must be measured as accurately and as realistically as possible (Caplan et al. []). This implies that viewing distances and lines of sight should be measured correctly and that possible blind spots need to be identified and taken into account as well. Previously, researchers had to observe viewing distances and lines of sight on CCTV monitors in the police’s camera control room and then subjectively transplant these onto a map in order to obtain a CCTV camera viewshed (cf. Ratcliffe et al. []). This method is time-consuming and the accuracy of the viewshed depends on the researchers’ interpretation and ability to assess distances correctly on a two-dimensional monitor and transplant these interpretations onto a map (Caplan et al. []). Moreover, many researchers will not have access to the CCTV camera control room and therefore cannot replicate this method. To overcome these limitations, Caplan et al. ([]) propose a generally accessible and easy-to-replicate method for obtaining accurate viewshed measurements.

Caplan et al. ([]) created CCTV camera viewsheds by using aerial imagery from Google Maps. The viewing distance of CCTV cameras was initially set at twice the median length of a Newark block face ( feet or approximately meters), even though cameras might be able to zoom and view beyond this arbitrarily set viewing distance. Next, aerial imagery from Google Maps was used to create viewshed polygons for each CCTV camera included in the study. These aerial photographs allowed the researchers to take into account buildings and other barriers that limit the line of sight of a camera. To validate this alternative method, several cameras were randomly selected to ground-truth the Google Maps viewshed. This was done by observing viewing distances and lines of sight on CCTV monitors in the police control room (as was done previously by Ratcliffe et al. []) and comparing these viewsheds with those obtained from Google Maps. Caplan et al. ([]) reported minimal deviations and concluded that the Google Maps method is equally robust, less time-consuming and more easily accessible for researchers.

The study by Caplan et al. ([]) is an interesting example of how the availability of online mapping technologies allows criminologists to reassess established research practices. While a great deal of effort had previously been involved in obtaining the information required to accurately measure CCTV cameras’ viewsheds, the new method implementing Google Maps greatly reduced this while still obtaining accurate viewshed measurements. Although Caplan et al. ([]) did not use Street View in their research, they could have implemented it as well. For instance, the imagery could have been used as an additional means of establishing, verifying and improving the measurement of CCTV cameras’ lines of sight.

Data visualization

Finally, Google Maps has the power to be a useful tool to visualize environmental criminological research and make the results easily accessible to a broad audience. The Slovenian project (Eman et al. []) is an example of this particular application.

The idea behind the project was to combine police data with relevant economic and socio-demographic variables, present this in an easy-to-use mapping interface that uses the Google Maps environment, and make it publicly available (Eman et al. []). Slovenian citizens could then easily obtain information on the distribution of reported crimes and could see whether or not a particular type of crime had occurred in their home neighborhood. The Slovenian police would have access to the project with additional crime mapping functionalities. The researchers expressed their hope that this project would make crime mapping analyses and the outcome of such analyses more comprehensible for the general public. Although no notable technical difficulties were encountered and the Slovenian law enforcement agencies were offered the chance to use the tool internally, the ultimate goal of the project was not achieved. Due to legal concerns surrounding the protection of personal data and potential violations of the privacy of victims, Eman et al. ([]) concluded that it is currently not a viable option in Slovenia to grant public access to this type of information and therefore the project was discontinued. Moreover, financial constraints prohibited the Slovenian police from acquiring the program.

Regardless of the project’s lack of success, it does illustrate how Google Maps could be an important part of criminologists’ methodological toolkit. It can help to make environmental criminological research and its findings more accessible, and possibly more comprehensible, to the general public by visualizing it in an environment with which many people are familiar.

When to use the method: strengths and weaknesses

While these online mapping technologies are useful additions to scientific research in general and create several new approaches to conducting environmental criminological research in particular, they have certain strengths and weaknesses that potential users should be aware of. This section aims to help criminologists to form an opinion on whether or not to use web mapping technologies in their own research project by discussing the major strengths and weaknesses of applying Google Maps and Street View in research.


There are essentially three major strengths that will make researchers want to consider implementing Google Maps and Street View in their research design.

First, usability is a key element of these particular web mapping technologies, and new developments continuously aim to improve their usability and the user’s experience (Nivala et al. []; McClendon []). Novice web users can make use of Google Maps and Street View, as they are not required to master specific technical expertise. Moreover, it is safe to assume that most people will have some familiarity with online mapping technologies, since many of us use these technologies in one way or another in our daily lives. Research subjects can focus on the tasks at hand, such as performing mapping tasks or browsing Street View imagery, instead of needing to figure out how to interact with the online environment. On a side note, advanced use, such as interacting with the API, does require some familiarity with the web mapping technologies. However, this is a task primarily set aside for the researcher, and research subjects in criminological research will rarely have to interact with the API.

Second, Google Maps and Street View can be accessed around the clock, as long as there is an internet connectionc. Researchers and research subjects are not required to purchase and install potentially expensive software. Nor are they limited to the location of a computer or laptop, since the mapping applications can also be accessed via smartphone. Similarly, if research results are disseminated through a Google Maps map, the general public can easily access these results as well.

Third, these web mapping technologies are inexpensive to use. In contrast to commercially available satellite imagery or street-level panoramic imagery, the use of Google Maps and Street View is essentially free of charge (Google [k]). Although users will need to make basic investments in a computer or smartphone with internet access, there are no significant additional costs that come into play afterwards.


Researchers should also be aware that there are some major drawbacks to using these web mapping technologies in their research. First, Google’s privacy policy (Google [i]), terms of service (Google [f]) and the additional terms of service applicable to the use of Google Maps and related services (Google [c]) should be consulted prior to use, and the user should check whether the intended use violates any of the stipulations. Moreover, the user should understand what is being stipulated in the terms of service, and should be aware that these documents change over time. In particular, users should understand that Google collects personal information when you use any of their services, such as name, telephone number and credit card information (Google [i]). Additional information that is collected includes device-specific information such as telephone number and unique device identifiers, log information such as telephone logs and internet protocol addresses, and actual or approximate location information. While this information is primarily used to improve Google products and user experience, it might be shared with partner companies, the general public, and upon request with law enforcement agencies and courts. This might be a particularly significant drawback in obtaining offenders’ consent to participate in research that makes use of Google Maps or Street View. Moreover, while users retain the ownership of their intellectual property rights, under Google’s terms of service uploading, storing, sending, or receiving content through any Google service grants Google a worldwide license to use, publish and distribute that content to improve or promote their services (Google [f]). Finally, users need to obtain prior written authorization from Google to publish any of the content available in Google Maps and agree that they will not promote or provide instructional information about illegal activities (Google [c]). Both stipulations could seriously limit the opportunities to implement Google Maps in criminological research.

Second, it is unclear how recent and accurate the information contained in these applications is. While Google aims to update the Maps and Street View content on a regular basis, update schedules are not publicly available. As a result, it is unclear whether Google’s claim that the available imagery in Google Maps is not older than three years holds. Moreover, some of the available information will be inaccurate and reflect out-of-date situations. This is especially true for the Street View imagery, since Google focuses on expanding coverage and only intermittently updates existing imagery. However, users can determine the approximate capture date of the available imagery either by using Google Earth when they wish to know the date of Google Maps’ aerial imagery or by checking the status bar of the Street View imagery (Agarwal []). Moreover, the recently introduced ‘time traveling’ option (Shet []) allows users to see how certain areas have changed over time (or not). As Google expands its Street View database and repeatedly collects footage of the same area, this option could become a particular powerful tool for researchers interested in evaluating the impact of changes in the environment on crime and crime prevention.

Third, users will be confronted with missing information when using Google Maps and Street View. Obviously, a large number of countries have no Street View coverage at alld. Other cases of missing information are subtler and relate to blurred-out areas in Google Maps, such as certain military installations, or pixelated houses in Street View. Moreover, users should be aware that the address information contained in the underlying database is not always accurate enough to allow some addresses to be identified; in particular, house numbers are sometimes missing or inaccurate due to ‘noise’ in the obtained images (Goodfellow et al. []). This might be an important drawback when assessing house features using Street View imagery. Instead of the actual address, images of the approximate address will be displayed. Moreover, the image quality is sometimes limited and will not always allow researchers to check the house number. However, a recently developed algorithm that is able to recognize house numbers in Street View imagery might solve this problem in the near future and improve address accuracy (Goodfellow et al. []).

How to use the method

Readers that plan to use Google Maps or Street View in their research and require some additional background information on how to use these tools, or simply want to browse the features that are available, can consult various sources.

The online Maps Help Center (Google [d]) provides a comprehensive overview of the features that Google Maps and Street View offer, the many tools that are available and how to use them. Most users will find their questions answered by browsing through this database, which can also be quickly searched by using the search bar. The Maps Help Center covers a variety of subjects, including straightforward ones such as how to get started with Google Maps and how to search and explore a map, but also provides tips and tricks on how to create and share custom maps and what particular tools are currently available to customize a map in such a way that it suits your particular needs. Users who want to develop an application that taps into the power of Google Maps or Street View should also consult the Google Maps Web API help site (Google [e]), or related sites such as the Google Developers website (Google [a]).

Additional information on the features and tools available in Google Maps and Street View can be found on the Google Lat Long Blog (Google []) and the Google Geo Developers Blog (Google [a]). The Google Lat Long Blog is aimed at a general audience and regularly receives updates and highlights newly available features (e.g., McClendon []), recently implemented map or imagery updates (e.g., Rapoport []), or simply provides examples of how Google Maps is being implemented by researchers or is impacting the daily life of citizens (e.g., Erickson []). Users can either browse the blog or search its contents using the search bar. As the name suggests, the Google Geo Developers Blog is aimed at developers and expects its audience to have some understanding of how the underlying Google Maps API functions. It is updated on a regular basis and provides examples of how the Google Maps API can be used for a variety of applications.

Supplementary information and examples of how Google Maps is being used can be found on a number of blogs unaffiliated with Google, such as Maps Mania (Maps Mania []) and Google Earth Blog (Taylor []).

Future applications: international, comparative environmental criminological research

The availability of web-based mapping technologies could foster international, comparative environmental criminological research in the near future. The idea behind Street View is that it allows for the virtual exploration of the real world (McClendon []). It aims to bring the real world, or at least part of it, to the user’s computer through a collection of immersive ° panoramas. Researchers are no longer required to travel to far away or remote areas to experience and tour them. Moreover, promising results from public health studies that have used Street View to virtually audit the built environment suggest that it is a reliable, quick and cost-effective alternative to in-person, on-site audits. In other words, this creates new opportunities for conducting international, comparative environmental criminological research (cf. Badland et al. []; Griew et al. []; Taylor et al. []) since some of the logistical challenges and costs that are typical for such projects no longer come into play. For instance, criminological knowledge could be broadened by testing environmental criminological theories simultaneously in multiple neighborhoods in the same city or applying them in many cities on different continents without the researchers needing to undertake costly field trips or finding suitable observers in every relevant setting.

Data on the built environment of different neighborhoods and cities can easily be collected by browsing the available Street View imagery in Google Maps. Since Street View brings the world to researchers’ fingertips, this can all be done systematically from a single, convenient location, probably their office, but it might also be their home or any other location where they happen to be. Moreover, since the observers can be grouped at a single location, the lead researchers have the opportunity to check in on the data collection whenever they wish to (Clarke et al. []; Rundle et al. []) and can provide feedback to the observers when they feel it is necessary or when the observers require it. Furthermore, as already pointed out in several previous studies (Odgers et al. []; Badland et al. []; Clarke et al. []; Taylor et al. []; Rundle et al. []; Griew et al. []), the costs and time involved with traveling to the research location are significantly reduced and can be invested in other parts of the research project, such as data analysis.


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Google Street View

Create, view, and share Street View imagery with the new Street View app from Google. Explore places from around the world, or use your phone to add new images to Street View, with these options:
• Photo Spheres (° panoramas)
• Photo Paths (a series of connected photos along a street or trail)
• Street View (connected panoramas from a ° camera)

Now you can show the world new places by recording with Street View and publishing for everyone to see!

With immersive Street View imagery from Google—and now from users like you—it's easy to virtually travel to nearly every country in the world. Explore world landmarks, discover natural wonders, and step inside places like museums, arenas, restaurants, and small businesses.

• App requires Android (KitKat) or newer
• Photo Paths requires an ARCore-compatible device (


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