Street View prompts privacy code in Germany

Google Map Germany is the largest country in Europe without Street View

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The German government has called for voluntary data protection code to be in place by 7 December 2010.

The move follows a meeting with Google, Apple and other companies to discuss how personal data is accessible on line.

It comes as the German newspaper Der Spiegel reports that "several hundred thousand" people have opted out of Google's Street View service.

Google has yet to launch its service in Germany, following privacy complaints.

The German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, said that the proposal to establish a code by 7 December "met with approval" and that it will enable users to obtain information on the gathering and intended user of data "in a user-friendly way".

Opt-out concerns

Google wants the mapping service of 20 German cities live by November 2010, but extended the deadline for users to opt out of its Street View mapping service until 15 October.

While other countries allow users snapped by Street View cars to have their face blurred, Google Germany is allowing people to have their homes removed before the service launches.

However, the US firm makes the assumption that people consent to the service and then opt out if they have concerns.

Start Quote

[There is a view that] people in Britain or the United States tend to see the possibilities of new technology, while Germans tend to see the dangers”

End Quote Stephen Evans BBC News, Berlin

This has not gone far enough for opponents, who want the service to be opt-in.

It has been reported that hundreds of thousands of people have contacted Google to opt out of the Street View service.

Google declined to confirm the number, saying that "at this stage it is not possible to give an accurate number of opt-outs" but said it was not surprised at the numbers.

"As expected, due to the wide media coverage and our own information campaign the number of letters we have received has increased in recent weeks," a spokesperson told BBC News.

Germany has some of the toughest privacy laws in Europe, a consequence of its citizens suffering under Nazi and East German rule in the past.

In addition, unlike other countries that have a centralised agency responsible for overseeing privacy and data collection legislation, Germany has a data commissioner for each state.

Hamburg's commissioner for data protection, Dr Johannes Caspar, has been an outspoken critic of Google who has said that his "concerns about implementing these complex opt-out proceedings were unfortunately not respected".

Google Street View car in the Netherlands Google has run into trouble more than once as it has mapped European destinations

The government in Berlin has been meeting Google representatives to try to find a way of respecting privacy while also not blocking the whole project.

The BBC's Berlin correspondent, Stephen Evans, said it appeared no easy solution seemed possible prior to the meeting.

A spokesperson for Google told BBC News that the meeting would be an "important contribution to the debate about geographical services and an opportunity to discuss how such services can benefit the German economy and society".

"Online mapping and geographical tools are becoming ever more important for citizens, authorities and companies - a trend which is only set to increase through the tremendous growth of the mobile internet," said the spokesperson.

"Any future legislation must make sure that in addition to the requirements of data protection, the development of innovative business opportunities and modern technology are allowed to flourish," they added.

In May, Google admitted that for the past three years it had wrongly collected information people have sent over unencrypted wi-fi networks.

The issue came to light after German authorities asked to audit the data the company's Street View cars gathered as they took photos.

The issue quickly snowballed, after it emerged the wi-fi data collection had occurred in more than 30 countries.

Investigations are ongoing in France, Germany and Australia, while in Spain, the firm has been summoned to appear before a judge on 4 October.

In the US, Google faces a class action lawsuit over the data harvesting, as well as a large-scale investigation backed by 38 states.

In the UK, the Information Commissioner recently cleared the company after it found that it had not collected "significant" personal details.

It's thought this latest meeting between Google and German authorities will focus on privacy issues and the ability of German citizens to opt-out of the Street View service, rather than the issue of wi-fi data collection.

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