German Street View goes live with enhanced privacy

  • Published
Images from Oberstaufen
Image caption,
The mayor of Oberstaufen wanted his town on the Street View map

The first images via Google's Street View service in Germany are live after months of wrangling over privacy.

The first town to be mapped on the service is Oberstaufen, in Bavaria.

Germany is the first country to have negotiated with Google to allow citizens to opt out before the service goes live.

Almost 250,000 Germans have requested that their properties be pixellated in the final imagery.

But in a recent blog on the German roll-out the search giant warned that it would not be able to respond to all requests immediately.

"Given how complex the process is, there will be some houses that people asked us to blur that will be visible when we launch the imagery in a few weeks time.

We've worked very hard to keep the numbers as low as possible but int any system like this there will be mistakes," Andreas Turk, product manager for Street View in Germany said in his blog.

Street View is available in around 20 countries and allows users to walk through town and cities using photos taken by specially-equipped cars.

Personal data

But some countries are becoming suspicious of the service, following complaints from citizens that their privacy has been invaded when the images are captured.

In Germany, the question of whether to allow the service sparked a nationwide debate.

During its assessment of the Street View service, the German data protection agency asked Google to audit the information being collected by the cars.

It was via this request that Google discovered that its Street View cars were collecting personal data from unsecured wi-fi networks, including whole e-mails, addresses and phone numbers.

The discovery, which Google has said was an accident, sparked investigations around the world. Google immediately grounded its Street View cars and alerted data commissioners in countries affected.

The German investigation of the circumstances under which Google collected the data is still ongoing.

Cake baking

Image caption,
The people of Oberstaufen baked Google a cake

While some German citizens do not want to take part in Street View mapping, others have embraced it.

Oberstaufen's mayor and tourist board publicly invited Google to put their town on the map and even baked a cake for the occasion.

Google plans to launch Street View in 20 German cities in the near future.

Alongside the images of the Bavarian town, Google also released a special preview tour of the country, with images of landmarks, including Bayern Munich's football stadium and the office of Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

Google confirmed that Germany was the first country to allow users to opt out of the service before it was live, saying it was "obeying local privacy laws", adding that it would not become standard practice in other countries.

But the change of heart is likely to reignite the debate about Street View and privacy.

In the UK, people can request that their properties be removed from Street View - but only after the images have gone live.

Tough line

In a parliamentary debate on privacy last week, Conservative MP Mark Lancaster raised the case of a women's refuge in his constituency which had asked to be removed from Street View and received no response.

Google said it had not heard the case but that it removed images quickly when asked.

The UK's information commissioner ruled out the possibility of allowing people to opt out of the service, saying it was the equivalent of a TV station asking individual permission from every member of the crowd before televising a football match.

But other countries have taken a tougher line.

Italy has asked Google to give citizens notice before starting mapping operations while the Czech Republic has banned Google from any further image capture, saying it invades peoples' privacy.

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