If you were strolling past the fleshpots in the Thai resort town of Pattaya recently, be warned: you might have been photographed and now, thanks to a company called MapJack, anyone in the world can see what you were doing.
Based in Hong Kong and Thailand, MapJack is a geo-imaging company that has already published image sets for six cities – four in the US and two in Thailand, including Chiang Mai, and has another five in the pipeline.
The Pattaya image set was launched late last month and includes some images taken as recently as March.
Like Google’s Street View feature in Google Maps and Google Earth, MapJack uses a fleet of cars mounted with special cameras to capture what it calls Immersive Street-Side Imagery.
Unlike Google, there is no attempt to fuzz out faces and blur car licence plates or to use the catch-all privacy cloak of lower resolution imagery.
As MapJack’s blurb says, the company wants to give users “an immersive feeling of actually being there” – an effect enhanced by the use of images captured by cameras mounted on backpack-carrying cameramen walking through pedestrian-only zones.
The result is that, in parts of Pattaya, a coastal resort well known as a destination for sex tourism, the MapJack cameras have recorded some fascinating glimpses of street life.
Among the narrow alleys and alfresco bars around the red light district of Walking Street and the area known as Boyztown, almost everyone gets his or her photo taken – Western men, Thai bar girls and even the odd transvestite.
A MapJack spokeswoman, who would identify herself only as Ms Ai-Ling, said the Thai photos were taken a few months ago.
Asked if there had been any privacy complaints, she replied in en email: “No, surprisingly not. We can blur faces or licence plates on request and it’s simple to do.”
The company, which was founded by a Swede and an American in 2006, published its first street-level image set just one week after Google’s Street View went live in May last year – something that was “pure coincidence”, she said.
The MapJack feature sits on top of a Google Maps template but it offers a number of different buttons and navigational tools not found on the Google offering.
This month, Google announced it was rolling out a new technology that would automatically blur any human face appearing in its Street View feature.
The blurring technology, which will be retrospectively applied to all existing Street View images and incorporated in all future releases of the popular mapping feature, is intended to mollify concerns about the potentially intrusive nature of the service.
Street View images provide a panoramic, ground-level view of about 40 US cities and their surrounding suburbs.
Australia is expected to become the first country outside the US to get the feature when it is added to local maps and rolled out before September.