With images of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's office, an idyllic Alpine town, some of the country's top football stadiums and other sites including the Siegessäule victory column where presidential candidate Barack Obama gave his famous speech in Berlin in 2008, Google launched a preview of its Street View service in Germany on Tuesday, offering residents of the country a glimpse of the service that will be launched in full later this year.
It is already clear that the German version of Google View will be significantly different from its counterpart in the United States in that numerous homes will be blurred out.
Google began dispatching its camera cars in Germany in 2008, but the announcement in August that the company would launch the Street View service by the end of the year triggered a massive public debate about possible privacy violations. The company created a page allowing residents of Germany to submit requests to have their homes blurred, but Google angered politicians and consumer protection advocates by initially limiting the request period to one month and launching the page in the middle of the summer holidays.
Google faced heated calls to provide more privacy protection and to ensure that homes were rendered unrecognizable in the final service if requested by residents. By the end of the period for registering on Oct. 15, Google had processed more than 244,000 complaints. The company deemed that figure a success because it represented only three percent of people whose homes had been photographed. The company is still allowing residents to submit requests for pixelation, but it will no longer guarantee that they can be processed by the launch date.
Alpine City Greets Street View with Open Arms
The number of objections from the 20 major cities that will be among the first to go online in Germany may also be the reason that many of the streets posted on Tuesday are located in the community of Oberstaufen, a town of around 8,000 in the picturesque Allgäu region of the Alps. When the mass debate over Street View broke out, officials with the city's tourism office invited Google to post the panorama images online as quickly as possible -- indeed, the Allgäu city has been one of the few major bastions of support for the service.
City officials took a photo of a cake with frosting reading, "Street View, Welcome to Oberstaufen," that has since been making the rounds on the web. But the street views in Oberstaufen also show how Google has dealt with objections of residents and pixelated homes at their request. The town even created a promotional video in which the mayor praised the advantages that Street View would bring to the town. And on Tuesday, Oberstaufen planned to hold a funfair to celebrate Street View's arrival.
But even in Oberstaufen, some residents prefer not to have their homes included on Street View. Their homes, which have been partly blurred, show how Google is dealing with all of the requests to make homes unrecognizable. The buildings aren't blurred entirely -- one can still make out the basic shape of the building, but one cannot see any details.
So far at least, Google has declined to say when it will go live with Street View for the 20 major German cities that are planned for this year. Google Germany spokeswoman Lena Wagner told SPIEGEL ONLINE only that Google would "start Street View for the 20 largest cities soon."
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