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Google 'Street View' hits fresh privacy snag

DDP/The Local · 7 Feb 2010, 12:31

Published: 07 Feb 2010 12:31 GMT+01:00

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Aigner told Focus magazine she was talking to the Interior Ministry about legal options to force Google to actively get people’s consent, rather than waiting for people to object to their image being held by the company – effectively reversing the burden of responsibility.

Google Street View, which is already available for large parts of the United States, Australia and Japan, publishes panoramic images of cities and towns from street level, so that visitors to the internet site can have a virtual tour of the city. The images are captured by cameras mounted on cars that drive around the city.

But the service has met fierce data privacy objections in Germany. Google has already agreed to blur faces and car licence plate numbers before it posts the images on the internet site.

But people have to tell the company if they want identifying features blurred on the raw images held by the company itself.

Aigner said the government was "examining legal steps and possible legislative changes" to force Google to seek consent even for these raw images, rather than wait for people to object.

Google has also come under criticism lately from Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger over privacy concerns about its Google Earth site, which has detailed photos from a bird’s eye perspective.

Google has hit back, saying it has already spent a year taking pictures in accordance with the stipulations made by data protection authorities in Germany. Spokeswoman Lena Wagner said “several hundred” applications had been made to have identifying features blurred on the raw images.

Story continues below…

She said Google planned to start putting its Germany street view online in the final third of this year. Smaller communities were yet to be photographed but these pictures would be taken when the weather cleared up, probably in March.

DDP/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

14:05 February 7, 2010 by Fredfeldman
After this small distraction Germany will fall in line, touristic implications alone will have them signing on the dotted line everyone else.
19:29 February 7, 2010 by wood artist
These claims seem somewhat spurious to me. If you're walking down a public street, you can hardly claim that you didn't want anyone to know, or that they weren't supposed to see you. These are not being used to track your movements or spy upon your personal activities. In fact, it's pretty much just "luck" if you happen to be somewhere when the camera car rolls by.

Now, if you were walking down the street holding hands with your mistress, then I can understand your concerns, but the fact remains that what you do in public is likely to be seen by others. Having said that, I'm just not sure what the basis is for complaining.

The street views in the US are generally not sufficiently detailed to really identify anyone, and as a writer, I find them a very valuable research tool. I realize that might not apply to everyone, but think of the number ot times you try to remember what is where. Google simply another provides a way to find out.
06:18 February 8, 2010 by snorge
I agree with wood artist. If you are in a public street, then it is fair game to photograph you is such an endevour as Goodle is undertaking. Not much different than a tourist taking a picture and you get caught in the frame. When this happens, does the tourist have to ask your permission to have you on his picture? No, -so why must Google?

However, if you have something to hide and are stupid enough to be photographed in a public place by Google or anyone else, then it's on you for being dumb -period.

Consumer Minister Ilse Aigner I think is trying to make an issue out of nothing. Google already blurs faces and license plates on the service. What does this woman think she is accomplishing? What is this world coming to where people can complain because they got photographed in public????

Seems like we need to grown up some more and worry about other things that are more inmportant...
10:38 February 8, 2010 by Portnoy
I totally agree with Germany and disagree with you all, though I know you're representing the American view. You have a reasonable assumption of privacy when you're in public -- you only expect those in your neighborhood or traveling through to see you, not the entire world.

Moreover, Google is using you to make money. You suddenly become part of a gigantic advertising campaign. I don't want my face published by google. Period.
11:42 February 8, 2010 by michael4096
If I understand you correctly, Portnoy, your two objections are:

- 'in public' is a 2-way street and you would like to be able to see those who can see you - so I assume you hate CCTV, amateur photography and home videos also

- google is publishing something to which it doesn't have the rights, namely your image, and benefiting from you even though you don't lose anything tangible in the process

For somebody associated with publishing, those are surprising points of view and not only contrary with US opinion but the opinion of most of the world. The front page of the Local alone is publishing at least three pictures featuring people from whom I'm sure no release has been obtained. For example, the driver of the google car.

The law is always a balance and if public opinion moved further in the direction you suggest and is changed accordingly, I beieve we would be worse off not better. Until that happens, google is acting withing the letter and the spirit of the law and shouldn't be punished for that.
14:25 February 8, 2010 by dcgi
@portnoy, how are you part of an advertising campaign as a figure with a blurred face if you just happen to be captured for a few images on streetview?

Grow up and inform yourself about what street view really is and how it actually works.
16:04 February 8, 2010 by Prufrock2010
A person's privacy cannot be invaded unless that person has a "reasonable expectation of privacy." A person in a public place has relinquished any reasonable expectation of privacy vis-a-vis being seen and identified.

However, that person still retains a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to the contents of that person's pockets, purse, bags or luggage. That person still enjoys the right not to have his or her image exploited commercially without consent, however.

Therefore, Google's proactive approach to blur identifying images should suffice to ensure the privacy of those persons captured by its traveling cameras. Can the same be said of the ubiquitous CCTV surveillance cameras in use by governments and private industry throughout Europe and North America? Certainly not. The German reaction to Google's cameras is disingenuous and hypocritical.
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