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Debate heats up over Google Street View

DDP/DPA/The Local · 11 Aug 2010, 08:09

Published: 11 Aug 2010 08:09 GMT+02:00

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Amid signs that Germany is far from placated by Google’s assurance that people can opt out of Street View, politicians lined up to raise their concerns about the navigation service, which Google announced on Tuesday it would start to roll out in 20 German cities by the end of the year.

The conservative Christian Democrats MP and chairman of the Bundestag’s interior committee, Wolfgang Bosbach, told Wednesday’s edition of Mitteldeutsche Zeitung that Street View would be a boon to burglars.

“For anyone who wants to buy a house, this is a useful resource. Unfortunately, it is also useful to anyone planning a burglary.”

Street View offers street-level pictures of the facades of residences and businesses, allowing users to take a virtual walk through a city without actually being there. The sequential images are taken by cameras mounted on cars that drive around the city.

It has already been introduced in more than 20 other countries.

Faces and vehicle licence plates are blurred out. But privacy advocates fear the implications of having information about people’s homes so readily available. Google’s promise that anyone who wants to have their residence excluded from the images can opt out by filling in an online form, has failed to entirely reassure privacy-sensitive Germany.

The federal privacy commissioner, Peter Schaar, called on Google to follow his carefully detailed plan for the processing of objections to Street View. Google had not, he told daily Ruhr Nachrichten, explained how precisely it would handle complaints. He said he was concerned that photos from Street View could be combined with information from address and phone books to create a picture of, say, private individuals’ financial solvency or credit ratings.

“We are awaiting a detailed explanantiion of the process for objections,” he said. “This has so far not been shown to us.”

He also called on Google to actively make sure people were aware they could opt out.

“In my view, objections have to be possible even after the activation of Street View, not only in the next four weeks.”

The environmentalist Greens’ internet expert, Konstantin von Notz, in an interview with daily Berliner Zeitung, accused the centre-right coalition government of having “failed to create a dependable legal framework to which Google must adhere.”

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The centre-left Social Democrats’ deputy parliamentary leader, Olaf Scholz, made similar warnings, telling the same paper: “The right to objection announced by Google must be easy for people to achieve and administer. It has to function well in reality.”

Google has said the German cities for which it is planning Street View are: Berlin, Bielefeld, Bochum, Bonn, Bremen, Dortmund, Dresden, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Essen, Frankfurt am Main, Hamburg, Hannover, Köln, Leipzig, Mannheim, München, Nürnberg, Stuttgart und Wuppertal.

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

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Your comments about this article

08:38 August 11, 2010 by moistvelvet
¦quot;For anyone who wants to buy a house, this is a useful resource. Unfortunately, it is also useful to anyone planning a burglary.¦quot;

So the basis of the minority argument is that some burglars could find it useful. Really is there that many burglarys compared to people buying houses? Well let us not stop at banning Street View, why not ban kitchen knives, vehicles, or the internet! Afterall to many they are useful tools, but some criminals may use them to murder, transport stolen goods or phishing!

This debate on Street View only confirms what a total failure it is... no not Street View, the failure of the argument of those few technophobes who are against embracing technological freedom. It seems clear that the majority wants Street View.
09:25 August 11, 2010 by 9900lawre
I like Google street view in the UK and wish it had more coverage. Very usefull for when you want to get a 3D view of where you want to visit.

It also could help with insurance, when re-visiting the scene of an accident to help remember what happened where.

The one big thing that is wrong with Google Street view is that in the UK they went un-challenged around the perimiter of Military and restricted areas. Even the home of the SAS in Hereford wasn't safe. In the days of the IRA at full operation would have been unheard of.

Lets hope that other Goverments like Germany will be able keep a tighter reign on what is photographed when it comes to national security.
10:15 August 11, 2010 by Kayak
It clear is very that people from outside Germany cannot understand us.

We in Germany do not want such a thing on our Land. We Germans are on our land and we must be to say who can do these things.

Becuase it good is in the United States and other American Lands (Australien, Kanada, UK) means it is not good heir.

10:25 August 11, 2010 by moistvelvet
@9900lawre, I understand your initial concern about photographing military establishments, but if you give it a little more thought exactly how much of a threat is it? Given the sophistication of modern digital cameras, and the fact that any serious terrorist cell would rehearse an attack, why would they rely on a dated StreetView image (some are 3 or 4 years old) as their intel instead of simply driving past and photographing the installation themselves. Therefore I say the use of Street View by terrorists/criminals is actually less of a threat than you think considering other options available to provide up to date data.

What is a threat to security is the use of Google earth to see the layout of barracks etc, ideal tool for planning mortar base plates, images of bases in Iraq were removed from Google for this reason.
11:09 August 11, 2010 by moistvelvet
@kayak, you are right people in Germany should decide for themselves if they want StreetView, and it seems that the majority like I do want Street View. People can decide by opting out, but rather than grasping that very obvious point you would prefer to imagine that the majority of Germans give a flying fig leaf about Street View! I notice that you too fail to give a reasonable explanation why Street View shouldn't be used in Germany, arguments of "we don't want it" simply aren't good enough as you are clearly in the minority.
11:34 August 11, 2010 by Clapoti
@kayak, maybe people outside Germany cannot understand you because of how you write ;)

I think once again it's a case of misinformation against Google like it was when Google books was launched in Germany. Seems like Germans have something against Google... I wonder how it would be if a German company would do the same.
11:35 August 11, 2010 by catjones
What are we going to do about all the Japanese tourists taking pictures of our buildings and stealing their souls? Let's outlaw cameras and painters and all those photo websites showing pictures of our cities!
11:51 August 11, 2010 by moistvelvet
Now now Clapoti, don't be naughty and make fun of the way people write on the internet, obviously it is their second language.

But you are right, what do Germans have against Google? I think it is simply a nationalist thing that Germans do not like things that aren't German. Yet they'll happily consume music, film and the internet which are not German when it suits them - nationalistic hypocrites!
11:59 August 11, 2010 by RP_Lifer
I use streetview often but I think its a double edged sword.

The main reason why I would be against it would be that it takes out the mystique and unknown of a place you havent been. I really dont like that I can drive around the Colosseum at home in my pj's without going to it. I think it preserves the uniqueness of a country without having every street mapped for web driving. I know in todays world thats pretty old fashioned but what can I say!
12:14 August 11, 2010 by Kayak
Kayak has a confession to make -

My previous comment (above) is "tongue-in-cheek" and is meant to be read with an ironic/mock German-English tone. It's a risk to attempt humour across cultures, I know - Oh God, don't I know it!

The greatest mystery to me (allow me to out myself as an AUSTRALIAN living in Germany) is how an advanced country can be so schizophrenic with things related to the internet.

About the only "benefit to burglars" from Google StreetView is that Big-Brains can invite The Gang over for coffee and cake to use the big-screen TV left over from the last heist while they discuss the next Big One.

Burglars are criminals. Google is a software company that provides a range of services to anyone who choses to use them in a democratic country.

All this anti-Google stuff, es kotzt mich an!
12:16 August 11, 2010 by frankiep
Just what the hell is the big problem here? These are photographs taken from the street. The same thing that one would be able to see if they were, you know, just walking down the street with their eyes open. Is there a public uproar when tourists, or anyone else for that matter, walks around a city taking pictures? Of course not!

But I think a couple of others here hit the nail right on the head. The argument that this somehow violates privacy is complete crap since these are pictures taken out in public view where no one would reasonably expect privacy. The uproar amongst Germans has nothing to do with 'privacy' at all. The uproar is, I suspect, due to the fact that Google is a very successful, and more importantly, rich, company that is not German. What's worse is that it is an American company.

Rich, successful, American, non-German - anyone wondering why so many Germans are up in arms about this need to look no further than that.
12:23 August 11, 2010 by Clapoti
@moistvelvet, English is my second language... so I feel allowed to make fun a bit of people's English... but anyway, turns out the guy's Australian., I was a bit suspicious that a German person would write words correctly, but in the wrong order ;)
13:37 August 11, 2010 by wohliver
@kayak: Sis is how a mock German-English tone sounds. Vhat vere you sinking?

Anyways, I am German and I couldn't care less about what google does. Germany has a strong liberal/left movement. It seems to me, the whole uproar about google is not so much about privacy (take facebook e.g., many Germans are on there, spilling their guts out about their private lives). The whole thing is an ideological issue. German lefties have an automatic, brain-washed response about everything. It is quite annoying, because these people are immune to logic.
14:01 August 11, 2010 by Clapoti
@wohliver, this sounds about right to me too.
14:43 August 11, 2010 by Kayak
Panogate GmbH (link below) and other folks like them are the groups in Germany who should be the most upset about Google Street View,


@wohliver: How do I know that you're really German, hmmmm...? You're German is too good. Which fingers would YOU show the waitress when you order "3 more beers..."?
00:03 August 12, 2010 by Mapper99
Can't wait to see some serious German Google Street View privacy invasions likes these: http://www.streetviewfunny.com
04:22 August 12, 2010 by wood artist
As an author based in the US, I find street view incredibly valuable in confirming my memory about how something looks. With yet another book set in Berlin in the offing, I could go look, perhaps to fill in the difference between my own pictures. Oddly, no one seems concerned that I took hundreds on certain streets, trying to capture everything my characters might see.

The thing that's missed here, or apparently overlooked, is the Google is doing nothing anyone couldn't do. They drove down public streets and took pictures. I can walk down the same streets and to the same thing. I can post those pictures on the internet should I chose to do so. The sole difference is the availability of others to know they are there.

In my last book, I was able to set a chapter in the small town of Ouray, Colorado. I've never been there, and likely never will be, but using streetview I was able to see what my character might have seen driving through the town. I was also able to identify a motel where he stayed, a diner where he ate, and a small cul-de-sac where some important action takes place. That may not sound like much, but I can safely say I have placed my character in the "real world."

Personally I can't wait for them to turn on Berlin and Köln. Two of my favorite places, and I was even in Berlin when they were shooting. Hey, maybe I'm in a picture somewhere..
15:41 August 13, 2010 by ovbg
@wood artist, you bring up another interesting use of Streetview that I love. Reminiscing ;O) I love living here in Germany, but every now and again, I pain for images of places I lived in the past. Fortunately, all those country's are covered by streetview. I can't explain the joy that I felt when I saw for the first time in 35 years the streets were I grew up as a small child.

But I also use it for a similar way to you. As a photographer, I am always looking for new angles in places I visit. I use streetview to get an idea before hand if a location is worth going out of my way to visit. It would be of great financial value to have this feature in Germany
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