Microsoft's StreetSide service - its rival to Google's Street View service, which offers web users the chance to see street-level photographs of a number of cities across the world when they search for a location - is being made available in the UK and across Europe.

Whereas Street View is an add-on to Google Maps and Earth, Microsoft's StreetSide will be available to users of its Bing search engine. At present, StreetSide only covers 56 towns in the US.

Just like Google, the tech giant is employing cars with specially fitted cameras that will drive around the streets of European towns and cities capturing photographs. The cars, which have been developed in conjunction with Nokia-owned mapping firm Navteq, have already started snapping in London.

"We're not setting out to record every street. We believe it is most valuable in urban centres where people want to find services," Microsoft's director of search, Dave Coplin, told the BBC.

The search engine also said it will automatically blur the faces of Brits that appear in the photos, as well as car number plates. Web users with any concerns about the images can flag them up immediately to Microsoft via the Bing website.

"Anyone may flag any image they feel is inappropriate or sensitive for review and possible removal. Microsoft specialists review every request and act quickly to remove objectionable imagery," Microsoft said.

"Privacy is imbued in everything we do," added Coplin.

Microsoft said it will be alerting residents of the towns where it plans to take photographs with adverts in local newspapers, featuring a telephone number that Brits can call to voice any concerns.

In the future, the search engine also plans to collect the "bare minimum" of Wi-Fi data in a bid to combine the photographs with location-based services. However, at present this process is on hold.

"We took the decision to postpone Wi-Fi data collection. We'd like to do it the right way," Coplin said.

Google ran into trouble last year after it was revealed its Street View cars had accidentally collected data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

For more information on the service, visit Microsoft's dedicated website.