Virtual audits using Google Street View are an increasingly popular method of assessing neighborhood environments for health and urban planning research. However, the validity of these studies may be threatened by issues of image availability, image age, and variance of image age, particularly in the Global South. This study identifies patterns of Street View image availability, image age, and image age variance across cities in Latin America and assesses relationships between these measures and measures of resident socioeconomic conditions. Image availability was assessed at 530,308 near-road points within the boundaries of 371 Latin American cities described by the SALURBAL (Salud Urbana en America Latina) project. At the subcity level, mixed-effect linear and logistic models were used to assess relationships between measures of socioeconomic conditions and image availability, average image age, and the standard deviation of image age. Street View imagery was available at 239,394 points (45.1%) of the total sampled, and rates of image availability varied widely between cities and countries. Subcity units with higher scores on measures of socioeconomic conditions had higher rates of image availability (OR = 1.11 per point increase of combined index, p < 0.001) and the imagery was newer on average (- 1.15 months per point increase of combined index, p < 0.001), but image capture date within these areas varied more (0.59-month increase in standard deviation of image age per point increase of combined index, p < 0.001). All three assessed threats to the validity of Street View virtual audit studies spatially covary with measures of socioeconomic conditions in Latin American cities. Researchers should be attentive to these issues when using Street View imagery.
Keywords: Google Street View; Latin America; image availability; social observation; virtual audit.