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Summary:

A senior Google executive has said that if the European Union continues to push the search engine to modify the length of time it keeps Street View images of European cities, it may decide not to produce any further photos for the service in Europe.

Updated: If the European Union continues to ask for changes to the way Google handles its Street View images, the search engine company may simply decide not to take any new photos for the service in Europe, according to a senior Google executive. Chief technology advocate Michael Jones, who was instrumental in developing Google Earth, made the comments in an interview with Bloomberg at the CeBIT technology conference in Hanover.

An EU body made up of privacy regulators from all the member countries recently recommended that Google shorten the amount of time it keeps unblurred photos of people and other identifying items such as license plates and street addresses. Currently, Google keeps those images on its servers for a year before they are replaced (users of the Street View service only see blurred images, as part of a previous requirement from privacy regulators).

Jones told Bloomberg that having to generate new images every six months instead of every year would make the company reconsider whether Street View was worth the investment of time and money. “I think we would consider whether we want to drive through Europe again, because it would make the expense so draining,” he said. Update: In an emailed statement, a Google spokesperson said that Jones’s comment “was not in reference to the retention policy, but was simply a statement generally about how frequently we’d want to update Street View.” In a previous statement to the agency that made the request — an EU advisory group known as the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party — Google lawyer Peter Fleischer said:

The need to retain the unblurred images is legitimate and justified — to ensure the quality and accuracy of our maps, to improve our ability to rectify mistakes in blurring, as well as to use the data we have collected to build better maps products for our users.

The dispute over keeping unblurred photos is only part of what has been an ongoing battle with both the European Union and individual European countries over privacy issues surrounding Google Street View. As part of the launch of the German version of the service, for example, the search company has had to agree that it will allow residents to have their pictures removed from the service before they are published, and has also provided a tool that will let German citizens remove photos of themselves, their homes, etc. from Street View after publication.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr users dspain.

  1. I can’t applaud google’s reaction enough.

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  2. [...] to an article from Gigaom.com, the EU would like Google to shorten the length of time that it keeps close-up [...]

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  3. I’m sure that would be fine with the EU.

    I have elderly relatives in Europe who don’t know what the internet is. If they knew their image, blurred or not, and that of their house would appear you can bet they would be staggered and horrified. It is a gross invasion of their privacy. Being able to see their house from across a country lane is one thing, to zoom the view from across the world is another and a total intrusion into the culture.

    ‘rectify mistakes in blurring’ ! Come on. Who is going to complain their car image is blurred too much.

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    1. I am sure there are some in the US that have elderly relatives that don’t know what the internet is. I don’t see a big stink here.

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    2. They should have built a brick wall around their house 15 feet high if they didn’t want people to see the front door.

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  4. [...] Google Gets Tough With EU on Street View – GigaOM [...]

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  5. [...] Google Gets Tough With EU on Street View – GigaOM [...]

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  6. [...] Google Gets Tough With EU on Street View – GigaOM [...]

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  7. [...] UPDATED: Google Gets Tough With EU on Street View – GigaOM [...]

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  8. That really sucks why would EU do that are they hiding something or do they want privacy on the net wow they can’t really stop google on posting those images.

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  9. I hope that EU realizes that waging war on Google is only going to cause problems. Street view is annoying (and yes, slightly creepy) but it is also a great resource to make sure you get to where you want to go.

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  10. Aww, come on guys. I love street view. I say do it every six months. Especially if photos of residents can be removed.

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