"You can really just walk down the street in New York," said Dean Burris, a former New Yorker now living in California. He can revisit his old neighborhood anytime he wants with Google's latest feature: "Street View."
"So this is the house I was brought up in — this tree here I planted," he told CBS News science and technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg.
By typing in an address and clicking anywhere highlighted in blue, Burris can even see how times have changed.
"Oh look at that! My mother painted the building and there's no more graffiti there," he said.
Google photographed the streets of five cities — New York, San Francisco, Denver, Miami and Las Vegas — with a special 360-degree camera mounted on a van.
The snapshots range from amazingly detailed to boringly mundane. It's a great tool for tourists or home-sick transplants, but privacy advocate Kevin Bankston, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Google is being too invasive.
"There are a lot of people on the Web who are, I think, freaked out by this — they find it kind of icky and uncomfortable," Bankston said. "I don't think Google has done anything illegal here, but I do think they've done something that's exceptionally rude."
In a statement, Google says it "takes privacy very seriously" and acts "quickly to remove objectionable imagery."
But some think it's like virtual voyeurism.
"People assume some level of anonymity as they were walking about the street but now that anonymity has been compromised," Bankston said.
But "Street View" does provide an oddly compelling snapshot of Americana. The resolution is clearest in San Francisco — where you can peer in a sleeping man's window, see an apparently angry woman on her cell phone, watch a man appear to scale a building, or get a glimpse of undergarments and sunbathers. All frozen in time.
Google happened to shoot a group of people in front of the CBS studios that may not be updated for months or years. But along with more immediate technology like video in cell phones and surveillance cameras, it's clear we have to re-examine privacy in a whole new way.
Copyright 2007 CBS. All rights reserved.