A grain elevator is on display in Coronach. ((Google) )

For good or bad, main streets in hundreds of Saskatchewan's tiny towns are suddenly a lot more visible, thanks to Google.

Earlier this week, the U.S.-based search engine company unveiled a major expansion of its Street View service across Canada, letting people take virtual drives through the streets of Fleming, Sturgis, Grenfell and dozens of other towns.

After Saskatoon became a Street View city last fall, few were taken aback when Regina and more than a dozen other Saskatchewan cities were later added to the list.

But the inclusion of places like Kipling, Unity and Creelman in the free service took some people by surprise.

"I know that a lot of people have security concerns," said Chad Jones, an instructor with the computer science department at the University of Saskatchewan. "More so in the smaller towns, they're going to see it as an invasion of their privacy."


The Fleming grain elevator recently burned to the ground, but it can be seen in its former glory through Google Street View. ((Google))

Privacy is a concern generally with Street View images, but it takes on a different aspect when it's rural areas, Jones said.

Google, which sent drivers equipped with special cameras into the communities and along various highways, says it blurs faces and licence plates to protect people's privacy.

However, in a village of a few dozen people, it's pretty easy to figure out who was walking around on the day the Google car came by, Jones said.

"Everybody knows everybody, so it's like, 'Oh, I can see Bill was doing his laundry that day.'"

On the other hand, Street View is an impressive accomplishment that will likely find many users in the province, he said.


This caboose is on prominent display in Lucky Lake, Sask. ((Google))

Aaron Genest, a U of S computer science graduate student, says he's aware some people are worried about privacy, but he thinks the advantages of Street View outweigh the potential negatives.

"I think it's great," he said. "There are lots of benefits."

Those include being able to take a peek at the house you grew up in, or to take a look around the neighbourhood where you're thinking about buying a home.

There are also future uses that nobody has even dreamed up yet, he said.

"I suppose we will see people trying to make money from this," Genest said.