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Google to launch 'Street View' for 20 cities

AFP/DPA/The Local · 10 Aug 2010, 18:01

Published: 10 Aug 2010 13:06 GMT+02:00
Updated: 10 Aug 2010 18:01 GMT+02:00

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The firm said in a statement it would launch a campaign Wednesday informing home owners, renters and businesses in cities such as Berlin, Munich and Hamburg that they had the option of blurring out their residences or offices.

The move is part of an effort to placate German authorities, who have serious privacy concerns about the service that allows users to view online panoramic still photos at street level taken using specially equipped vehicles.

“Google will roll out Street View for the 20 biggest German cities by the end of the year," the company said in a statement, meaning Germany will join the list of 23 countries featured on Street View. "Renters or owners can apply to have their building made unrecognisable before the pictures are published online.”

The service allows users to view panoramic street scenes on Google Maps and "walk" through cities such as New York, Paris or Hong Kong. Germany will be first country, however, where Google has been forced to have a campaign informing people of their rights to privacy.

Residents can register their objections via an online form.

Hamburg’s data protection commissioner, Johannes Caspar, slammed Google’s timetable as hasty, saying people were not yet prepared to meet any kind of deadlines in registering their opposition to the programme. He criticised the fact that there was no telephone hotline for people to ask questions.

“People don’t know what to expect here,” he said.

Google’s own privacy commissioner in Germany, Per Meyerdierks said: “The co-operation in my view is running very well.”

The processing of objections would take some weeks, said Google spokeswoman Lena Wagner. After that, they will be put online. “We hope that this will be the case in November,” she said.

Google already blocks out people's faces and car number plates in the other countries featured on Street View and will do so in Germany.

But Germany has been considerably more vociferous that that other countries about the privacy implications. In April, Consumer Affairs Minister Ilse Aigner and Google reached an agreement after a lengthy dispute under which the company would only provide Street View images from Germany after it had addressed privacy concerns.

Aigner, a fierce defender of privacy rights online, has said she will delete her Facebook profile over data protection issues. She welcomed Google's concessions as a victory for her hard-line stance.

"My demands and the public debate about Google publishing information about homes and property on the Internet have borne fruit," her ministry said in a statement.

Germany is especially sensitive to privacy issues due to grievous abuses by the Nazis and East German communists in the past.

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"Germany had very unique experiences with data protection during the two dictatorships," under the Nazis and the East German communists, said internet specialist Falk Lueke of the VBVZ consumers association.

Lueke said the launch would be an experiment for Google and Germany.

"Many problems will only be identifiable once the software is launched," Lueke said. "For example, will faces be better pixelled out than in Britain, where you can still recognise them?"

The company noted, however, that Germans were already among its most avid users of Street View when making their travel plans abroad, with nearly one million clicks per day.

"That is the problem: no one wants to see his house on the internet. But everybody wants to find photos of their vacation rental," Lueke said.

AFP/DPA/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

13:47 August 10, 2010 by MonkeyMania
OK. I opt out! Where is the online form for me to do this. If everyone opts out, they will be left with a blank screen for their privacy invading street view. Lets do it guys. Screw them!!!
14:01 August 10, 2010 by moistvelvet
@Editor Bob, thanks for adding the vital content that was missing from the article. Anyone would think that The Local are only interested in highlighting the negative aspects about this service. So what if a few people don't like it, Street View is a service that will benefit far more people than those over sensitive souls opposing technological advancement.

Here is a suggestion, anyone who decides to opt out, go to that address and stare through their window!
14:14 August 10, 2010 by NYsteve
I have been following this article for months now and I can understand the concerns over privacy...The Pirate party in Germany has been fighting for this.....BUT....here in the US, this Google Street View has got to be the handiest thing ever....many sites will give you directions, but this actually shows you the landmarks you use as reminders to make turns....street signs arer= a lot of times hidden by trees, bushes, etc...but when it says turn right and shows you a picture of lets say a McDonalds or a bright red house....it makes the directions come alive. Another benefit is the ability to take virtual "strolls" thru these towns....Yes privacy is important but lets not be afraid of something until there is a resaon to be afraid.......Google is not spying on anyone or trying to catch anyone doing something they shouldn't be.....TRY the application before you decide it is not good, OK? it's like when you were a kid...how do you know you don't like a food BEFORE you try it???
14:27 August 10, 2010 by moistvelvet
@NTsteve I agree it is a fantastic tool for those reasons, actually it is like walking down the street yourself, although as I walk past I never see people with their faces shielded by their hands or frantically blurring out the view of their house with smoke cannisters, I presume this is because anything they considered private and not for me to see they would do inside their own homes!
15:00 August 10, 2010 by catjones
Why don't those who fear privacy intrusion of "public" scenes rage against tourists who take still and video and then post online? What's the difference?

Just another trumped up German charge against American technology. What's next, being against American charity?
15:30 August 10, 2010 by martell
Unless some other countries, they got excellent maps and well functioning GPS navigation systems in their cars in Germany. If their privacy is protected by law against foreign companies and intelligence services because they do not want them to intrude, so be it. They are already having a hard time wrestling down their own government's mandatory data harvesting.
16:21 August 10, 2010 by majura
Glad it's finally coming here. Has been one of my favourite features when I was in the US and back home in Australia.

Lets just hope the poor Volk and 'trendy' politicians with teh-internets-phobia can actually deal with such a drastic change in technology - a series of photographs. strung together.
18:10 August 10, 2010 by anne k
Here's a link to the Pittsburgh thing: http://www.streetwithaview.com/scenes.html

Unfortunately Google has already taken all the photos for Street View (they started in 2008 and finished this year).
04:23 August 11, 2010 by jlmcnamara
Interesting that close to half of those cities are in NRW alone.
05:33 August 11, 2010 by ovbg
@MonkeyMania, looks like you are the only one against this so far. Yet you have not explained exactly how this is a privacy issue. There is nothing done here at all that invades privacy. Anything from the street is public view .

Anyway, I've a great idea to fill the gaps for those paranoid people who block their street. When I see some in Frankfurt, I'll go out to that street with my 21MP camera and photograph the missing section, then put up on Googlemaps with their Panoramio feature.

My 21MP image will show an enormous amount of greater detail than any low resolution streetview image ;O)
11:56 August 11, 2010 by moistvelvet
@ovbg, good idea, I've also vowed to go to any local point that has opted out and stare through their window, perhaps tkaing a photo and placing it on google would be better. However I think their is a law about taking a picture of someone without their consent, so stick someone you know in the foreground ;-)
14:08 August 11, 2010 by ovbg
@moistvelvet, thanks :O) Taking a photo through someone's window could be considered a breach of privacy by the law, even if you were standing on public property. It depends what the motives were, but whichever way, it would cause someone doing this a bit of a problem with the law, and of course is a morally different thing than photographing the outside of their property from the street.

Taking a picture of someone in public without their consent is not illegal under any circumstance when in a public place, even in Germany. The easy way to prove this is a) Look at this very website and all the photos and b) go to Flickr and google any place in Germany. If it was illegal, everyone in this country would be breaking the law.

What could cause problems is photographing someone and then using that photograph for commercial purposes, i.e. in an advertisement. In this case they require a model release form from the subject. It is not illegal to photograph them and use it for commercial purposes without a release form, but the subject could take the photographer and company to court and will almost certainly win.

However, any photograph can be used for publication for editorial use, which is why newspapers and magazines get away with this, as any photo can be used in normal publications such as books, which is why you can find say a book on Berlin which shows thousands of people's faces.

As a professional photographer I have to know the laws etc in Germany and Europe.
15:15 August 11, 2010 by antrodemus
Street view is a handy tool and a fascinating snapshot of mundane day to day life. We should think of street view as a postcard. The images capture a single moment and nothing more. This is precisely why we shouldn't get upset over privacy. The pictures can't be used to track anyone's movements or monitor anyone's activities. With this in mind, we should be much more concerned about CCTV, face and number plate recognition, and GPS technologies that make it possible for our whereabouts to be tracked and monitored in real time.

For that matter, social networking is a much greater potential threat to privacy and civil liberties. You can opt out of services like Facebook, but you can't keep friends and acquaintances from uploading photos of you and labelling them with your name. Additionally, complex webs of personal connections from social networking sites are already being mapped and used for more than just targeted advertising. My main point here is that defending your privacy is a good thing, but attacking Google's street view project is a mistake, and the effort to protect privacy (and ultimately civil liberties) should be targeted elsewhere. Preventing personal data collected by state bureaucracies and private companies (such as banks) from being misused or shared is a far nobler cause.
23:51 August 11, 2010 by ovbg
^^ Well said antrodemus. Especially pointing out issues with Facebook and other social networks. Not that these are wrong, I use Facebook myself. But I only add friends of people I actually know, and who are friends, not anyone else. Also, regardless of how tempting it is, I never post photos I take whilst on holiday. I have friends (real) who do, who also accept "anyone" else as friends despite me pointing out to them they have just told the world that they are away from home for a length of time.

But Google Streetview? It tells nothing compaired to the much more efficient method of driving or walking past the street in real time. But it is great for checking up on an area whilst planning for a holiday, looking to buy property, checking out where your friends have moved to or just arm chair travelling. Not to mention other business benefits like chosing locations for a new cafe, retail outlet and council's for town planning. The real life, honest uses are enormous, the dishonest uses are terribly limited.

But, as my earlier post was meant to point out, why are these people who claim that it is a great privacy issue only concerned by the low resolution images of Streetview, but have no problems with the much higher resolution photos people take and also post on Google, Flickr or many other such sites. It's a bit like saying Honda should be banned because their cars produce pollution, but having no other problems with any other car.
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