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Minister: Google faces 50,000 lawsuits

DDP/The Local · 30 May 2010, 12:00

Published: 30 May 2010 12:00 GMT+02:00

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Aigner told news magazine Focus that there is a rising tide of lawsuits confronting Google in the country. "If the wave of legal objections continues, we expect that it could be more than 50,000 by the end of the year," she said, adding that not only property owners, but also tenants, could raise complaints.

"Google has agreed to offer an un-bureaucratic solution to collective objections in local communities," Aigner said. She estimated that Street View had already photographed and digitalized more than 90 percent of residential areas in Germany.

Aigner also criticized the amount of time Google was taking to clear up a mistake it had reportedly made while collecting Street View data. The corporation recently admitted that it had acquired internet addresses and fragments of emails while collecting Street View data, but claimed this had been accidental. "The delay in delivering the hard drive to the appropriate authorities is unacceptable, and opens speculation about what is really on there," the minister said.

Aigner said she feared that the data had already been delivered to the US. "People have a right to a full explanation of what happened to those email fragments," she said.

Aigner is simultaneously waging a campaign against the social networking site Facebook. Ahead of a meeting with Facebook managers about its new data protection policies, Aigner said, "The highest security level has to be the default setting. Internet users should not be forced to click laboriously through several windows in order to protect their profiles."

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The minister warned Google and Facebook that their public images could face serious damage if they don't change their data protection policies. "It will threaten their business models if the user's trust disappears," she said.

DDP/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

12:57 May 30, 2010 by Prufrock2010
I don't see what the big deal is. Google street view is a wonderful application that allows people to get a clear image of someplace they might be considering traveling to, or to remind them of someplace they've been. No one's privacy is compromised by street view.

People's privacy is routinely compromised by private industry and the government, with cameras at every lighted intersection to catch people who roll through red lights, cameras along the highway to catch speeders, surveillance cameras in all S-Bahn stations, Bahnhofs, airports, hotels, department stores and public squares. No one is immune to public and private surveillance in Germany.

And England is worse. You can't go 50 feet in London without being on camera. I suggest that people lighten up on Google. It is one of the few tech companies that is actually providing a public service, and at no cost to the user.
13:13 May 30, 2010 by dcgi
Dear Germany,

Please get over yourself.

Yours Sincerely,

-- The Internet.
14:18 May 30, 2010 by pepsionice
Ok, lets get realistic here. Fifty thousand law suites? Really? No lawyer is going to take a case like this unless they can actually make real money. You can't figure more on the win of a case than 3,000 Euro max, so the lawyer might walk away with 1,000 Euro? I just don't see interest in this.

But to make this interesting....let Google turn off it's entire mapping ability for any request within the border or IP of Germany. When you click on it....just have a "happy face" come up.

And the next time the German chief of consumer protection wants to make a stupid comment....instead of 50,000 law suites......make it 500,000 instead. Just remember....ANY profit a guy makes off any of this....is taxable. Think about that for a moment.
14:46 May 30, 2010 by Prufrock2010
I don't know if there is a provision under German law for class action lawsuits as in the US. If there is, it could be lucrative for a lawyer representing the class, assuming the class is certified and prevails. Such a class action would probably not succeed in the US because of the "commonality" and "typicality" requirements; i.e., is there a sufficient common question of fact or law that applies to the entire class, and does the class "representative" present a significant issue not shared by the class generally? FRCP Rule 23. In the Google case, each member of the class would have to establish through testimony and supporting evidence how they were damaged by street view, which would necessarily defeat class certification.

But German law is a very different animal. I am curious about whether similar legal mechanisms exist here, and if so, what their criteria are.

The whole issue is ludicrous, in my view.
19:37 May 30, 2010 by Living_in_Germany
Does this mean if I take a picture and post it on the Internet that I could face a lawsuit? I like to take pictures of my family, sometimes those pictures are taken in residential area, like the one we live in. Sometime I post them to the Internet so my family in the States can keep up with us and stay connected. This is pretty much a joke and I hope the legal system can see that and leave Google alone.

I have noticed that if you have money you are pron to much more lawsuits than the common man. Poor poor Google.
20:37 May 30, 2010 by majura
I think this paranoia stems from the cultural strain that puts a lot of Germans in the 'reserved personality' category. Also a general lack of understanding of how Google makes money. Or maybe it's just FKK people afraid of internet-porn-stardom.

Another big factor is that people like Aigner just don't understand how to use and maintain their usage of the internet. A "Pew Internet & American Life Project" Survey showed that 71% of 20-29yo's actively maintain their Facebook in regards to privacy, tags etc. whereas only 55% of those 50-64.

Aigner and those that think alike her are asking for a nanny-state policies/laws just because they don't understand. I do recognise that it's easy for someone like me to say that since I did grow up with the internet (albeit a generation prior to "the online generation" that had a laptop with their milk bottle), but then again it isn't that difficult.

My simple answer to people like Aigner is: If you are afraid and not willing to educate yourself- Stop using the internet.
21:21 May 30, 2010 by JohnnesKönig
The story isn't about photos, it's about "The corporation recently admitted that it had acquired internet addresses and fragments of emails while collecting Street View data..."

I like Google but like most of us here in Germany, we do not want them doing this. It is their right to oppose it regardless of the reasons. and I am sure the reasons are quite divers...
23:42 May 30, 2010 by Prufrock2010
Yes, Google inadvertently collected fragments of emails, etc. while traveling around shooting its Street View shots. Google has agreed to destroy that information. Your government (and mine) collects more private information than that on a daily basis, and has not agreed to destroy it. They will preserve it, and they will use it against you whenever it suits their needs.

In any case, how are you or is anyone legally "damaged" by Google's conduct? That is the first question to be asked when assessing the viability of any lawsuit, let alone 50,000 of them.
10:00 May 31, 2010 by twisted
This nothing but a tempest in a teapot, to quote a phrase. OK, dump the ill-gotten emails and WLAN information, but street view is really great. Perhaps I detect a certain about of envy by the German authorities...is Google's technical "spying" better than the German governments?
10:05 May 31, 2010 by moistvelvet
Ilse Aigner and the supposed 50,000 are the minority, why should they deny a service which it seems the majority of people have no problem with. Street view is a great tool offered by Google, those opposing innovation and globalisation should simply "log off"!!
10:57 May 31, 2010 by LancashireLad
This isn't just about Streetview. The argument about harvesting data is also weak. If WLANs broadcast the fact that they are there, then that information is public domain. If Google was able to get snippets of emails, it did so from unprotected WLANs - so it is the individual's fault if they don't protect their data. BTW has anybody proved that Google was able to read one of their emails?

No, let's cast our minds back to the 80s and early 90s. An extremely dominant force emerged within operating systems - Microsoft. Their business practices basically followed the Harvard business teachings "Identify your market and dominate it." Welcome to the world of capitalism.

People rallied against this domination and the rest is history. Fast forward to today and we see Google dominating the Search arena and putting its feelers out to dominate the entire web. We now see the same kind of law suits being levelled against them.
11:50 May 31, 2010 by Prufrock2010
Lancashire Lad --

You make a good point about Microsoft. I'm sure you're also aware that Microsoft has a built-in "back door" in its operating systems that allows Microsoft AND law enforcement the ability to access all the information on your computer. Every time you "phone home" to Microsoft by installing one of their never-ending updates, you are compromising your own internet security. Google collected some random data by accident. Microsoft collects usable, comprehensive data deliberately and uses it. Where's the public outcry against Microsnot?
12:05 May 31, 2010 by LancashireLad
Hi Prufrock,

There was indeed a public outcry at the time when Windows 95 came out. This was the first version to include this phone home "functionality".

The system sent (I have no idea if this is still the case) various details about your system which Microsoft claimed was to help in discovering pirated software - and highly likely also for marketing purposes. I doubt very much this information was given to or could legally be given to Law Enforcement Agencies without due legal process.

This is not the only outcry raised against Microsoft and not all of them have had grounding - and that is my point. Google is being seen as the new Microsoft and because of this, any excuse is being taken to damage the company. This seems to me to be the real reason behind the current attacks on Google.

For the record BTW, I work for Microsoft - albeit through an acquisition. The company I was working for was bought by Microsoft in 2008.
12:53 May 31, 2010 by Prufrock2010
Lancashire Lad --

I agree that there are probably ulterior motives behind the attacks on Google because it is beginning to monopolize the search engine market. I'm not using "monopolize" in the legal definition of the term, as there are several competitors in the marketplace. But Google delivers a superior product and is growing expansively, which could account for attempts to bring it down. Ever since Google squared off against the Chinese government, these efforts seem to have intensified. Any nexus would be sheer conjecture on my part, however.

As for Microsoft, I seem to recall (vaguely, I admit) some revelation that Microsoft agreed to give the US government a "key" to its back door as part of its settlement of the government's antitrust suit that went on for years. As for due process, that went out the window (no pun intended) with the Bush administration and the enactments of Patriot Acts I and II. When it comes to US government snooping, due process is a legal fiction.

Also, Microsoft uses some of the information it collects from your computer to detect software piracy, as well as for commercial gain. Microsoft passes a lot of this information on to the Business Software Alliance, a strong-arm group that goes after suspected users of unlicensed software with a sophisticated shakedown/extortion scheme, demanding large sums of money from small businesses that it accuses without foundation of using illegal software. I sued the BSA for civil racketeering several years ago and they quickly settled, but they haven't curtailed their extortionate practices.

I have no beef with Google, but I have a major bone to pick with Microsoft and BSA.
17:31 May 31, 2010 by LancashireLad

It may well be that Microsoft surrendered access to the data for a legal settlement - it would have happened before we were bought so it wouldn't have been of great interest to me. The idea of due process being a legal fiction for the US government espeially after Bush ... point also taken. My naivety and faith in human nature coming to the fore.

I was aware that Microsoft use the gathered information for anti-piracy means and also marketing, but I was not aware of how they went about it.

I still stand by my original post that I beleive this is an attack on Google just to attack Google. (Please note despite having been bought by Microsoft that does not automatically make me a Google hater as hopefully my original post shows)
23:37 May 31, 2010 by Prufrock2010
Lancashire Lad --

I never thought you were a Google hater. And I agree that this attack on Google makes no sense other than to attack Google. I just keep looking for the ulterior motive, as that is a product of my training and cynicism. Somebody's trying to bring Google down, and I don't know exactly why unless it is a competitor with governmental influence.
12:37 June 1, 2010 by Icarusty
The google sympatheziers obviously didn't read the article. I think "fragments of emails" and IP addresses - in collaboration with actual street addresses via Street View, has given them plenty of cannon fodder for their vast databanks.

Remember the NSA has invested heavily into Google R&D. I'd be more than happy if they shared their tech (patented of course) with other governments to ensure the safety and privacy of our citizens, but as we are right now the whole world (except China obviously) are walking into the great Google mindtrap.

Google: "Don't be evil"
12:59 June 1, 2010 by Prufrock2010
"Remember the NSA has invested heavily into Google R&D."

The implications suggested by that comment are a little misleading. Google and the NSA are collaborating to determine ways to prevent cyberattacks such as those launched by China. You seem to be suggesting that the NSA is investing money into Google R&D to somehow enlist Google to spy on citizens. If my inference is incorrect, please feel free to clarify what you mean by "the great Google mindtrap."

13:48 June 1, 2010 by Icarusty
This is well before the China spying debacle... we're talking a regular supply of discreet income and technology specifically for R&D, soon after Google became more than just a search engine. Do you really think it would have had the permission of US government satellites to provide the data for Google Earth, or indeed US government permission for Street View (which was run unopposed) unless there was some sort of government intelligence backing? Try the other search providers, Microsoft has a Street View equivalent who is poor quality in comparison.

The fact remains, Google is American (no doubt you are, thus your Google love in without a care for the blindingly obvious privacy concerns) - no doubt most have been swayed by the lure of convenience that Google has provided with its (mostly) free services, and that is why most are willing to turn a blind eye to their privacy in return. Meanwhile Google, and by proxy the US Government, can garner all the data of foreign countries it wants to, under the image of the wholesome, innocent Google.
14:10 June 1, 2010 by Prufrock2010
My "blindingly obvious privacy concerns" were vitiated by the Bush administration's enactment of Patriot Acts I and II. The United States has in place the most comprehensive and sophisticated domestic intelligence gathering apparatus in the history of the world, constitutional privacy issues be damned. My privacy (and yours) is a thing of the past. Google doesn't worry me. Big Brother is already up and running. That concerns me, but it's a little too late.
15:45 June 1, 2010 by Der Grenadier aus Aachen
I'm moving to a log cabin in Norway.
15:57 June 1, 2010 by lovestoscribble
I'm in Canada. Last summer most, if not all, homes of people were photographed and put on street view. I didn't know about it at the time and I can't help but resent that I wasn't asked if this was OK. If I am at a bank machine, walking down a street or driving through an intersection and there are cameras, that is OK - these are public areas. But when my house is photographed and placed on a public domain without my permission it makes me uneasy - it is invasive. I know that I can't do anything about it, but I don't like it.
17:23 June 1, 2010 by michael4096

If you owned one of the appartments in The Local's picture above, would you feel the same way?

If not, then why is it different for google?

if so, then I can't help you, you really are paranoid
17:23 June 1, 2010 by Prufrock2010
Grenadier --

Street View is available in Norway, too.
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