Google's Maps Street View service pilots indoor photos

Google's Street View shows the interior of a chocolate shop An Australian chocolate shop is one of the first retailers to sign up to the service

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Google has started a pilot project allowing the public to look inside shops and other businesses found on its maps.

The feature is an extension of the firm's Street View technology, which already lets users view 360-degree exterior images.

The existing service prompted some privacy complaints from people who claimed the technology was intrusive.

However, Google said the new scheme was on a completely voluntary basis.

"Building on the Google Art Project, which took Street View technology inside 17 acclaimed museums, this project is another creative implementation of Street View technology, to help businesses as they build their online presence," said a company spokesman.

"We hope to enable businesses to highlight the qualities that make their locations stand out through professional, high-quality imagery."

First steps

Initially the roll-out is limited to select locations including London, Paris and a number of cities in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the US.

The US company said it was beginning the process by inviting the most searched types of businesses to request a visit by its photographers.

Google said these included restaurants, hotels, shops, gyms and vehicle repair workshops.

However, it has ruled out big-brand chains for the time being. Hospitals and lawyers' offices have also been excluded.

Business owners are told they must warn their customers and employees about the photoshoot before it begins. Google has promised it will blur out or refuse to publish any images that include bystanders.

The photoshoots will produce 360-degree images using fish-eye and wide-angle lenses as well as stills. Business owners are also invited to upload their own pictures.

The search site notes that all photographs taken will become its property and that they may be used for other applications. Business owners may request their removal, but the terms and conditions do not include a commitment to comply.

"Retail is always a competitive sector, but this is particularly true at a time of falling disposable incomes," said Sarah Cordey, spokeswoman for the British Retail Consortium.

"Many retailers are increasing their online presence and use of technological innovations, so this is a development some businesses will no doubt consider with interest."

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