'Unacceptable' Information Policy Minister Urges Germans to Opt Out of Google Street View
Germany's consumer protection minister has long been critical of Google Street View, which displays panoramic pictures of towns, cities and individual homes. Now she has called the company's information policy "unacceptable" and urged Germans to ask for their data to be removed from the service.
Google's Street View service is controversial in Germany, where laws ensuring privacy and data protection are far stricter than in the United States. Now German Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner has called on ordinary Germans to opt out of the service.
Aigner told SPIEGEL that ordinary Germans should file a formal objection to Google if they didn't want to have pictures of their houses and gardens "be put on the Internet for all the world to see, as well as being linked to other data."
Google has to keep its promise to honor each and every objection that people file, Aigner said. The company must blur out the buildings in question, as well as house numbers and license plates, and make passersby captured on Street View "completely unrecognizable," she insists. Until that happens, Aigner says, "the service won't be allowed to go online in Germany."
Lacking in Sensitivity
Google Street View is a Web-based application that provides panoramic pictures of towns and cities from street level. The service is currently available for many cities in North America and Western Europe but has yet to go live in Germany, although Google's Street View cars have been taking pictures of Germany's urban areas for several months.
Google announced last year that it would make an exception to its usual information policy for Germany and promptly erase any identifiable image of people, property or cars from all of its raw data upon request. People can file objections before or after the images are published and the German Street View Web site will include a link where objections can be registered.
Aigner attacked the California-based company in unusually strong words. "Google unfortunately seems to lack any kind of sensitivity when it comes to protecting personal data," Aigner told SPIEGEL. She called the company's information policy "unacceptable."
Aigner, who is the fiercest Google critic in Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet, wants to know "which private data is stored by Google and how that data is interlinked and marketed." So far, she said, Google has failed to provide answers to those questions. Aigner is due to meet with representatives of the company in the near future to discuss her concerns about Google Street View.
Anonymous and Legal
Responding to Aigner's criticism, Google said that its data collection practices have never been a secret, even with respect to a controversial project that maps the location of public and private wireless Internet networks.
"The data we collect is anonymous, and our data-collection practices are legal," a Google spokesman said.
Aigner disputes that assertion. It needs to be examined whether the company's practices "are even legally permissible," she said.
It's not the first time Aigner has attacked Google. In an interview with the newsmagazine Focus in February, Aigner said that the "comprehensive photo offensive is nothing less than a million-fold violation of the private sphere."