Bing Maps Streetside carEnlarge Photo
We've talked a lot about the chilly reception Google Street View has gotten overseas. And yesterday, tech reporters were all a-flutter with reports that Google is losing ground to Microsoft's Bing in the search wars. Now comes news that Bing is bringing its Street View competitor, Streetside, to Europe in a bid to trounce Google at mapping -- and PR, too.
Streetside has been available in the U.S. for some time, though it's mostly limited to well-known commercial centers. Now, Microsoft is rolling its car cams into London and 28 other cities to add European street-level images to its maps. But the company is being cautious -- and rightly so.
Google's biggest problems across the pond have come from privacy advocates who say that (a) the company has no right to photograph people and buildings for all the world to see , and (b) the company has no right to track wifi networks and pull private data off those networks, including emails. The former was less of an issue for many citizens, and besides, it's probably a losing battle in the Internet Age, where everyone is famous for 15 minutes but their YouTube clips live forever. The latter, however, is a distinct violation of the law, and even though Google admitted fault and is working to destroy the data it collected on wifi networks, the company's public image has been tarnished.
By following in Google's tracks, Microsoft gets the advantage of learning from its competitor's mistakes. For example, in an attempt at transparency (frankly, a new concept for Microsoft) the company has taken out ads in the 29 cities it's planning to map. The ads will explain what Microsoft hopes to achieve with Streetside and how people can make themselves heard if they have questions or complaints. Microsoft has also gotten the blessing of privacy groups, including Britain's Information Commissioner’s Office.
Bing Maps in general and Streetside in particular have a long way to go before they catch up with the usefulness of Google Maps and Street View. Google has already collected loads of map data, and it's constantly in the process of updating, thanks to Mountain View's significant resources. But as we've seen time and again in the tech world from former giants like IBM, MySpace, and even Microsoft itself, no company is invincible. Hopefully, the battle between Google and Microsoft will bring improved service for users, no matter which company comes out on top.