Google Places gives virtual tours of shops, businesses

Google Street View is to come in from the cold, allowing users to snoop around inside shops and business with a newly launched service called Google Places.

Google has been working on the service, which allows businesses to opt in and allow potential customers to have a peek around through a series of online 360-degree panoramas, since April 2010.

The service is currently being rolled out in major cities in London and Paris, as well as major cities in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Customer-facing businesses such as restaurants, hotels, shops, gyms, salons and garages can apply for a Google Places listing via an online portal, and the search giant will send photographers to create the panoramas.

Despite Google Places being opt-in, the news has already prompted some to question the privacy implications of the new service, fearing that customers could be caught shopping in places they shouldn't be, or vital information could be disclosed that could aid criminals or terrorists.

Google seeks to allay these fears on its Google Places FAQ page.

"We'll either run the 360-degree imagery through our state of the art blurring technology to blur out faces of any employees and customers who appear in the imagery or we won't publish the still photos if people are in view," it says, adding: "Business photos capture nothing different to what a customer would see by visiting the business in real life."

The first business to get the Places treatment is Comics Toons N Toys, a comic book store in Tustin, California. Potential customers can explore the shop using the now-familiar Street View-style navigation arrows.