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Google and government bury hatchet over 'Street View'

AFP · 1 May 2010, 09:57

Published: 01 May 2010 09:57 GMT+02:00

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Street View, already available for cities in the United States, Japan, Australia and some parts of Europe, allows users to view on the Web panoramic still photos at street level taken using specially equipped vehicles.

The groundbreaking technology, launched in the United States in 2007, has given rise to privacy concerns in Germany, which is especially sensitive to the issue due to abuses by the Nazis and communists in the past.

Officials were concerned that thieves could use pictures of private houses to gain illegal access and that photos of people were being published without their consent.

But before the service can go live in Germany, the firm has promised to black out properties if individuals raise concerns and also to make faces unrecognizable.

"What is private must remain private," said the minister.

A Google spokesman told AFP that the firm still intended to launch Street View in Germany this year. "There will be no delay," he said.

German officials have also demanded that Google stop collecting information about private "WiFi" wireless Internet networks with its special cars.

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Google responded that it was not the only firm doing this and that German companies were carrying out similar operations.

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Your comments about this article

11:37 May 1, 2010 by dcgi
"But before the service can go live in Germany, the firm has promised to black out properties if individuals raise concerns and also to make faces unrecognizable."


12:38 May 1, 2010 by wood artist
In the US this issue has brought a basic principle of law to the forefront, namely the reasonable expectation of privacy.

The concept is simple: Do you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a given situation. For example, you could claim (and should) that within your own home you have a such an expectation. No one should be able to see what you are doing unless you invited them in.

Walking down the street, however, includes no such expectation. You are out in public where everyone can see everyone else, so if someone takes a picture that happens to include you, you have no right to say "you took my picture without my permission." What happened is they took a picture in public, and you happened to be there.

The same goes for pictures of buildings or cars or whatever. I could walk down the street and take the picture, and so long as I don't cross onto private property, there is no expectation of privacy. If I wanted to photograph your home, I could, as long as I stay out in the street.

As a writer, i find GoogleEarth and GoogleSV very helpful, allowing me to see things that I would otherwise need to travel to see. i can place a character on a street and know what he would be seeing, or simply confirm my own memory about a place. Writing about Berlin extensively, I look forward to the day when I can summon those sights on my screen and use my travel time to best advantage.

17:40 May 1, 2010 by dcgi
@wood artist: totally agree, I think the only slight exception to that is with sensitive buildings/sites that you are not allowed to photograph without strict permission (e.g., military installations etc.)
22:04 May 1, 2010 by michael4096
There are reports of thieves using google sat photos to identify buildings with lead roofs. Any new aid will aid the wrong people as well as the rest.

Again, together with the article, we have a picture published showing a person and a car and a location, almost certainly without a formal release, and nobody considers this in the least bit strange. But, when google does it, even with faces blurred, we have cries of 'privacy violation'.
00:04 May 2, 2010 by ovbg
^^ Good point on the photo. Actually, they don't need a release to publish that photo as it is considered Editorial. Without this exception in the law, the press would not be able to publish any photos.

Releases are only need for commercial publications of people, and even then not in all cases. Take a book on Frankfurt. It may show a published photo of the Zeil pedestrian zone and several hundred people may be seen in that photo. They won't have a model release for anyone. However, if for instance a photo of a person was used in a commercial to promote that product, then it's a different story.

Regarding "reports" of thieves using google sat photos to identify buildings with lead roofs, I have also heard reports of thieves using cars to both travel down streets looking for properties to break into and transporting stolen goods. There have been other reports suggesting that thieves use various tools to break into a house, and mobile phones to communicate finds to other thieves. I even heard of a thief using shoes so that he doesn't cut his feet on broken glass.

09:31 May 2, 2010 by twisted
Given that this is an argument in Germany, I'm kinda surprised that the authorities haven't yet found a way to tax Google for this information, since everything else except the air we breathe is taxed.

Seriously, this is not an invasion of privacy...privacy starts at the front door.
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