German citizens in several cities can now request that photos of their homes or businesses be blurred to prevent them being identified in Google’s Street View photo service, as part of a deal between that country’s privacy authorities and the search company prior to the launch of Street View in Germany. Anyone who wants a building blurred has to fill out a Google form — which has a message from the company encouraging them not to do so — and then respond to a verification email. As it prepares to launch Street View in Germany, the search company continues to deal with issues related to its inadvertent collection of wireless data via its Street View cars: In the latest move, Spain has announced it is investigating the company for breach of privacy.
The Google Street View form for German residents states:
You have decided to blur your building and/or property prior to the launch of Street View in Germany. This is a pity because Street View can be extremely useful for you and others, especially if you want to see where your family and friends live, no matter how far apart you might be, or if you want to discover a vacation resort in advance. Businesses can boost advertising by integrating Street View into their website to show customers their shop windows, offices or their closest store. In addition you can offer directions to your business. For all these reasons we hope that you will decide against irrevocably blurring your building and/or property. If you still want to remove your building and/or property, please click the button below.
Google’s street-level photo service has been plagued by privacy criticisms in a number of European countries for some time now. Earlier this year, the European Union told the company that it needed to warn people when the Street View cars were going to be filming in their cities (something Google said it was already doing), and that it needed to shorten the length of time that it keeps the data on its servers.
German authorities have asked to meet next month with executives from Google and Microsoft to talk about regulations related to privacy. The country’s data-protection watchdog is advocating that the government come up with new legislation, including a “central objections register” which would allow citizens to keep their personal data from being disclosed by various companies and services, instead of having to go to each individual company. Meanwhile, German chancellor Angela Merkel has said that she will not be asking Google to blur photos of her residence, although she said she supports the move to allow residents to do so.
The controversy over Google’s collection of personal data via wireless networks passed by its Street View cars (which the company has said was inadvertent) continues as well: a Spanish judge has ordered a Google representative to appear in court as part of an investigation into whether the company committed a “computer crime” by collecting the data. Google is also facing a potential investigation in Germany related to the same issue, and has been in negotiations with a number of countries over what to do with the data it has collected.
Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): Why New Net Companies Must Shoulder More Responsibility