SEATTLE -- The images are so detailed you can tell whether a neighbor's hedge was recently trimmed or whether the car parked in front of a local eatery might belong to a friend.
The companies' newly evolving search and mapping services make it easier than ever to scout out everything from vacation destinations to a new hairdresser.
Never before have searchable databases of detailed pictures covering wide swaths of urban areas been readily available.
And that has privacy advocates worried about the risks of such picture-perfect exposure to vulnerable citizens such as women in domestic violence shelters.
''I think there are going to be privacy issues, no doubt about it -- somebody's going to feel uncomfortable with it," said Charlene Li of Forrester Research. ''So the question becomes, 'What are the tradeoffs? Is the value worth it?' "
Yes, according to research by Forrester.
Li said she's already seeing consumer interest, and she expects companies to continue to develop such tools because they see the potential for online advertising from local businesses that may not want to buy national ads.
Microsoft, which late last year began offering detailed images of metropolitan areas taken from airplanes, said last week that it would team up with Verizon Communications Inc. to distribute advertisements from Verizon's superpages.com on Microsoft's local search pages.
And Amazon, whose A9 subsidiary has since August offered street-level images taken from vans, says the main goal of its site is to help people find local businesses. The company's site currently lists images from two dozen US cities.
Google offers images from all over the world, but the amount of detail varies greatly.
For example, users scouting out Seattle or New York City can make out individual houses and buildings; those in Lander, Wyo., see a much less detailed view with Google and only get a graphic map with Microsoft's service.
Google's service mostly gets its images from satellites, and while they're not nearly as detailed as those from Amazon or Microsoft, they are nevertheless good enough to recognize one's home.
John Hanke, a product director at Google, says the technology is popular for figuring out whether a vacation spot is all it's cracked up to be -- Is that ''beachfront" hotel really on the beach, or across the highway from the beach? -- and for house-hunting.
Daniel DeConinck, an engineer and entrepreneur in Toronto, used Google's site to find an accountant close to his house, and has since used it to scout out nearby bicycle shops and computer retailers. He thinks it has the potential to one day replace the local yellow pages.
''Anyone who I've shown Google Maps to, their jaw just drops when they see that," he said.
Pam Dixon of World Privacy Forum says such images can potentially be used to track people who are vulnerable.
She said A9 removed images of shelters upon her request and now gives people the option to remove their personal information from its directories.
She's hoping that such policies will become widespread.
''I really think you should have the option to say, 'No. No, thanks,' " she said.