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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Politicians Of Some German Cities Ponder Banning Google Cars

Imagine dramatic music, bright text on a dark sky background, and the words “Some days ago in a country far, far away...”, followed by a floating title reading Privacy Wars: Attack of the Street View Car Clones.

OK, back to reality... in a couple of towns in Northern Germany, politicians are starting to protest against Google’s Street View cars, which photograph cities to put panoramic photos into Google Maps. Faces and license places are being mostly blurred as of recent times (though Google still privately stores the unblurred versions, and I guess it depends on local laws whether or not governments may poll for that material). According to Lübecker Nachrichten, here are some of the things being said*:

Ironically, some of the same parties sometimes want to invade user privacy by pushing for more government inspection into our digital lives.

Now, in discussions like these it’s often forgotten that any tool can be used for got good and bad – that much is true for kitchen knifes, computers, telephones, cars, or for instance a city map printed on paper, as the map allows a criminal to find their target. The more interesting question might be what the good-use to bad-use ratio for a given tool is; e.g. is a city map mainly used to commit criminal acts, or is it mostly always used to just find the way for completely innocent purposes?

On the other hand, as opposed to Google’s web page crawling efforts – which adhere to the robots.txt format which determines which sites won’t be accessed – there’s currently apparently no way for citizens to opt-out of Street View in advance. Added to that, Google also often only restricts what they put online when they’re put under pressure; the blurring of faces and license plates, for instance, wasn’t part of Street View in the beginning.

[Via Google Watch Blog. Photo courtesy of Jan Schlünzen showing a Google car in Hamburg.]

*The original quotes are in German, this is my translation.

Update: According to Golem, Google US told Germany’s privacy watchers that they will indeed not put up Street View imagery for this particular German state Schleswig-Holstein in 2008. “For this year it’s a definite decision that images in Schleswig-Holstein won’t happen.” (The word “images” could also be translated with “recordings” in this quote.) At the same time Google say they continue to believe that “the creation of images for a street view in Germany” is legal, Golem reports.

Schleswig-Holstein, GNU-licensed by Wikipedia

[Thanks GiWY!]


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