Low Visibility Ahead? More than 100,000 Germans Ask Google to Blur their Homes

Germans are amongst the most frequent users of Google's Street View service, but that doesn't mean they want pictures of their homes on the Internet. At least 100,000, and possibly a lot more, have registered online to have their homes made unrecognizable.
One of Google's cameras, perched on top of a car, captures images on Berlin's Unter den Linden near the Brandenburg Gate in the German capital.

One of Google's cameras, perched on top of a car, captures images on Berlin's Unter den Linden near the Brandenburg Gate in the German capital.

Foto: DDP

Germans may have a reputation for staring  at people, but they apparently don't like it when the favor is returned. SPIEGEL has learned that more than 100,000 people have already registered with Google to have their homes blurred out of the Google Street View service, which is slated for launch by the end of the year.

Google would not provide concrete information at the time SPIEGEL went to press late last week as to how many objections it had received in Germany, but sources with inside information close to the company said the figure was in the several hundreds of thousands.

Renters and owners of buildings in the 20 largest German cities, whose houses are scheduled to be put online this year, have until Oct. 15 to register appeals that their buildings be pixelated and made unrecognizable on Street View.

Street View provides users with a panorama 360-degree image of a given location. For example, a user can click on an image of London's Big Ben and then follow the image around as if he or she were standing on the corner opposite the London landmark and also view all of the surrounding buildings. The service also covers residential areas, though, which has left many with the disturbing feeling that anyone on the Internet will be able to peer into their front yard or garden.

'Properly Run'

Johannes Caspar, the privacy protection commissioner for Hamburg, the city where Google has its German headquarters, recently visited the company's offices. He said that, "as far as can be judged from the outside," its procedures for pixelating homes "appears to be properly run." Caspar said that what "remains to be seen is if Google can properly manage the flood of requests."

Obscuring homes is made more difficult by the fact that the images are made by digitally stitching several different pictures together.

And while some in Germany are openly against Street View, a segment of the German population already enjoys using it. A Google document states that, of all of the countries where the Street View service has not yet been launched, Germany is the country where it is used the most.

That Google paper was prepared in advance of a "Geo-Summit," which starts Monday in Berlin, at the request of German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière. The meeting was called to help draft a law aimed at regulating so-called geo-services, or online geographical services, such as Google's Street View.

Last week, Czech data protection authorities stopped Google from collecting more images for Street View. According to the Reuters news agency, the company is also facing privacy challenges in 37 US states and in several other countries around the globe. Street View has already made available pictures of facades from 23 countries.

mbw -- with wire reports
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