Google Gets Tough With EU on Street View

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.

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