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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Many Germans Opt Out of Google’s Street View

BERLIN — Google on Friday said that it remained on course to begin its Street View mapping service in Germany this year despite the thousands of people who have asked the company to delete their properties.

“The number of requests will not have an effect on our plans to launch Street View this year,” said Kay Oberbeck, a Google spokesman in Hamburg. “We are making a tremendous amount of effort and a tremendous investment to bring Street View to Germany. We realize that privacy is a very sensitive issue in Germany and are doing what needs to be done to address everyone’s concerns.”

Mr. Oberbeck said Google Deutschland would release the number of requests it had received from German citizens in a few days. The deadline for those requests was midnight Friday.

Germany’s consumer protection minister, Ilse Aigner, has said “several hundred thousand” Germans have asked Google to remove their properties from Street View. Mr. Oberbeck described Ms. Aigner’s figure as “speculation” and said Google was working to eliminate illegitimate requests.

For example, Mr. Oberbeck said, fans of Schalke 04, a soccer team based in the city of Gelsenkirchen, began a campaign to have the stadium of their archrival, Borussia Dortmund, removed from Street View.

Under a 2009 agreement with Germany, Google is letting property owners opt out of Street View before it is activated. Street View is running in 32 countries, including 10 in Europe.

Thilo Weichert, the data protection supervisor for Schleswig-Holstein, the German state that was the first to organize protests against Street View, said he was skeptical that Google would be able to start Street View as planned.

“I can tell you that we have had a five-digit sum of opt-out requests from our state alone,” Mr. Weichert said. “I think they will have to go in and do these deletions by hand. This could take a while.”

Google’s concession on Street View is part of its efforts to calm privacy concerns in Germany, the largest market in Europe. In September, Google gave German data protection officials a full copy of the Internet and e-mail data it said it inadvertently collected from Wi-Fi routers while compiling its Street View archive. The data collected from unencrypted Wi-Fi routers in 32 countries has sparked investigations around the world.

At the time, Google attributed the data mishap to a programming error. The company apologized but initially declined to provide government officials with copies of the data collected. In Germany, the company at first offered to let data protection regulators remotely view the information stored at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.

But in early September, Google relented and gave officials in Hamburg the data, said Johannes Caspar, the data protection supervisor in Hamburg, whose initial investigation of Street View brought the illegal data gathering to light.

“We have the hard drives now from Google,” Mr. Caspar said. “But the data is so massive and diverse that we are having to develop our own software programs to analyze what was collected and how. This will take a bit of time.”


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