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DATA PROTECTION

Google Street View to post first new pictures from Germany in a decade

The Google Store Chelsea in New York, US, on 28 May 2021. (Photo: Victor J Blue / Bloomberg)

Google Street View’s cameras have returned to Germany more than a decade after a privacy backlash in the country pushed it to stop updating images.  

Alphabet’s update will start with new photos of the streets and landmarks of the country’s 20 largest cities and expand from there, the company said in a blog post on Tuesday. Google voluntarily suspended Street View photography in Germany in 2011, after an outcry from privacy advocates and opposition from regulators.

“We’ve been back on the road with our vehicles in Germany since June and will be posting the latest images as they become available – adding footage from other regions across the country,” wrote Sven Tresp, a programme manager for Street View. Google is posting information about where its cameras are travelling, he said.

The Street View rollout across Europe more than a decade ago triggered probes by data protection watchdogs across the European Union. The investigations included a probe by the Hamburg authority, where Google had its main German base. Some led to fines, including a €1-million penalty in Italy.

One of the main concerns at the time was that the cars Google used to take photos of neighbourhoods also collected personal data via Wi-Fi networks. The company also fielded complaints from Germans who were concerned about their privacy.

The Street View probes took years for regulators to conclude and the mixed outcomes ultimately helped fuel a debate about modernising the bloc’s data protection rules. It culminated years later in the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, considered one of the most rigorous set of privacy regulations globally.

“Times have changed,” Lena Heuermann, a Google spokesperson, said when asked why the company is restarting the project now. “We see that German users want Street View.” The company said in a separate blog post last month that 91% of survey respondents who knew what Street View is rate it positively.

Google approached Germany’s data protection watchdog in Hamburg in March to discuss parameters for publishing new images, the regulator said said in a post on Tuesday. The company has been back on the road with its Street View cameras since last month, Tresp said.

“If you want your house or apartment to be pixelated, and therefore object to the processing of your personal data by Google, please submit an objection to the company,” the regulator wrote.

Street View will obscure licence plates and people’s faces, Tresp wrote in the blog post. “We always take your privacy seriously.”

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