Since 2006, you've likely been seeing a steady increase of user photos appear in Google Maps whenever you search for a place, most typically when that place is a location that attracts a lot of camera-wielding tourists e.g., Eiffel Tower, Red Square, Wrigley Field). That personalized (even though you most likely don't have a personal connection with the person who uploaded the photo) photo-sharing service is all thanks to Panoramio, a Google-owned tool that specializes in publicly geo-tagging your pictures with Google Maps.
If you're new to Panoramio, check out the demonstration video that will give you a better idea of how the service works.
Like I said, though, if you've looked up any popular destination of interest lately on Google Maps or Google Earth, you've likely already been seeing Panoramio pictures appearing on your screen. In Street View, they appear as little window panels that you can click on to see the user images stitched together with the Google images. If you're still in map view, sometimes you'll see blue dots that indicate a Panoramio-uploaded picture.
Via the Lat Long Blog today, Google Maps announced that they've tweaked the uploading process so as to make even easier for users to share their photos on Google Maps. From the post:
You can now snap your photos to a place on the map. When searching for your photo location, you’ll see a list of suggested places where your photo may have been taken, and you can click “Snap to this place” to select the right location. We’ve also added the ability for users to indicate that a photo was taken indoors. These additional details about where a photo was taken provide all users with more useful information and context.
The Panoramio pictures you see on Google Maps and Google Earth are, to the chagrin of several users, there whether you like it or not. There is no way to disable or hide the feature. A couple of different forums in the Google Maps Product Forums have popped up in the last year bemoaning the unavoidable presence of Panoramio pictures on these two Google mapping services. So far, though, no Google employee has responded to the posts and it has not provided a way - as far as I have been able to determine - to hide the Panoramio pictures in either Google Maps or Google Earth.
Given that you can probably expect more Panoramio pictures to be popping up in Google Maps now that it's that much easier to add them, I asked Google to confirm whether or not there is an option to disable the appearance of Panoramio thumbnails in Google Maps since this seems to be a question people have yet to have answered. I've yet to hear a response but we'll keep you posted if Google gets back to us.