Google Inc. is willing to concede to German demands the company erase photos for its panoramic mapping service after they have been processed, a data protection official said Wednesday.
Johannes Caspar, the head of the Hamburg regional office for data protection, said Google had agreed to erase the raw footage of faces, house numbers, license plates and individuals in Germany who have told authorities they do not want their information used in the service.
In other countries, like the US, Google does blur the faces and license plates and so on in the output seen on the website – but they’re still keeping that unblurred photo internally. The crucial difference here is that in that case, the government (if laws permit it etc.) could ask Google for certain content, and Google may be handing it out to them. (Whether that would be that bad after all – it’s usually stuff taken in perfectly public spaces anyway – is yet another discussion.)
Should this catch on then there’s a couple of downsides to this from Google’s perspective. For one thing, Google can’t fully reprocess the blurred parts, e.g. should they find a better way to blur faces or license plates. Plus, in the future they can’t fully check on aggregate data of blurred parts, say to calculate the amount of Dutch cars driving around in Hamburg. However, the original photos are only going to be erased on user request, as the AP says, so that probably won’t make a big difference overall.
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