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Privacy official calls for review of Google's 'monopoly'

DDP/The Local · 23 Feb 2010, 16:30

Published: 23 Feb 2010 15:59 GMT+01:00
Updated: 23 Feb 2010 16:30 GMT+01:00

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The US company isn’t far from being a monopoly, Schaar said.

“A company increasingly controls the virtual world. We’ve never seen such a thing in the real world,” he said, calling on politicians to “limit and control the power.”

Schaar also referred to an Economy Ministry amendment to anti-trust laws currently underway that would help break up monopolies.

Google's soon to be launched German version of its Street View application also poses problems for data protection, Schaar said.

Already available for large parts of the United States and several other countries, Google Street View publishes panoramic images of cities and towns from the street perspective so that users can take a virtual tour of a city. The images are captured by cameras mounted on cars that drive up and down streets.

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

Schaar called the navigation program a “double data protection problem,” because personal property and homes are not only photographed but these images are then made available online.

Despite Google's agreement to make anyone caught on camera anonymous, the central question remains the hidden data behind the use of the program, which the company will use for advertising purposes, Schaar said.

“Google should do everything to create total transparency and open up about what happens with the data and how its services are connected,” he said, adding that the company should not be allowed to use the protection of its trade secrets as an excuse.

But the head of Google’s German legal department Arnd Haller defended the company.

“We have come to this conclusion: that the product is legal,” he said.

Story continues below…

On Tuesday, the University of Hannover presented a legal study commissioned by Google which found that Street View was “harmless to data protection laws.” Google is expected to launch the application in Germany before the end of this year.

But Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger told daily Frankfurter Rundschau that the company wasn’t taking German laws seriously enough.

“The notion that German data protection law doesn’t apply to Google Street View is incomprehensible,” she said. “Instead I expect Google to provide the most transparency possible and protection for personal rights.”

DDP/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

18:42 February 23, 2010 by Frenemy
Google's habit of hiring visionary engineers/programmers and zero-gravity-thinking executives coupled with kick-ass products, people liking them, and well-targeted marketing is what propelled Google to the top. Its not a monopoly, its just a popular company that has made a name for itself by churning out killer-app after killer-app.

Microsoft (and Apple), on the other hand, is a totally different story. Microsoft's in-your-face software mongering along with its (little known) clandestine insertion of malicious code in its Windows OS kernel that makes competitor's applications act buggy (ie. Windows Media Player vs. winamp/VLC/jetAudio/etc -or- IE vs. Mozilla -or- MS Office vs. Open Office)...now THAT is not only aggressive monopolization (syndication), but also a gross violation of US anti-trust legislation.
09:31 February 24, 2010 by dcgi
Yes, I bet if you really interviewed/checked the default browser homepages of all the loonies who oppose street view and think Google seeks to control you and your life (the tin-foil-hat brigade) you'll probably find they use Google's search engine on a regular basis.

People just hate to admit Google are a very clever business who never stop innovating and are ever increasingly a company who you use more and more everyday. Now facebook on the other hand, that's something to get on your hobby-horse about, they really don't care anywhere near as much about your privacy.
12:40 February 24, 2010 by michael4096
I've never quite got my head around this sort of monopoly legislation.
Monopolies are like politicians. Becoming one is not a crime, even to be applauded, but using the power it brings to remain one is a crime. Microsoft was found guilty of crimes in both the US and EU because it used its monopoly position to prevent others from selling their software.

However, this article appears to confuse two things: is google abusing its monopoly or is it breaking data protection laws (or both)? It presents no evidence for google abusing its dominant position. Breaking data protection laws is also unclear...

"Schaar called the navigation program a ¦quot;double data protection problem,¦quot; because personal property and homes are not only photographed but these images are then made available online."

however The Local (just an example) frequently has photos of homes posted on the internet.
03:57 February 25, 2010 by Frenemy
The answer is "no", but you still don't have a "reason" (legitimate explanation). What you have is actually an equivocation! Nothing more.

("laissez faire" is French not German) ;-)
14:57 February 25, 2010 by Erika1965
........what about workers, couples our ill people which don't want to be seen on street?
17:57 February 25, 2010 by tollermann
Okay Europe/Germany where is your competitive google product?
12:34 February 26, 2010 by Frenemy
Its called "Beer". ;-)
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