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People and Politics Forum 20. 08. 2010

"Does Google Street View violate personal privacy?"

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Dispute over Google Street View

It’s already reality in many European countries: images of houses, streets and gardens for the whole world to see. Internet giant Google has now also scanned in German towns and cities and intends to put the material online in the near future. But many residents want their homes to be blacked out, and are supported by politicians and data protection experts. The debate over Google reveals widespread wariness in Germany of mass data gathering.

Our Question is:

"Does Google Street View violate personal privacy?"

Writing from the USA, Rod Silvers thinks Google's image leaves it little choice:

"If Google is serious about about living up to its slogan of "Do no evil," it will respect property owners' right to privacy and make it easy for them to opt out of Street View."

But Edward Johnson, who also writes in from the United States, thinks it's all much ado about not much:

"When you walk out of your home, you tend to lose your expectation of privacy - because you are in public! A house's façade is very clearly public; that's why people maintain it and try to make sure that it is presentable to the outside world. Google Street View isn't showing people something they couldn't see without their own two eyes in person. So unless another person's vision violates your privacy, neither does Google Street View."

Gerhard Seeger in the Philippines thinks Google Street View is acceptable as it is:

"The houses don’t need to be made unrecognisable. Anyone walking or driving along the road they are in can see them anyway. But Google must not be allowed to take pictures through windows or in private gardens. No-one needs this information to get their bearings. It is important to remain cautious and controls must be maintained. We need to know what they do with the film material that they don’t need to serve their purpose."

Cristina H. Bockmuhl in the Philippines agrees:

‘’I believe we need to rein in Google and all other providers. Even if you can’t make out a person’s identity, it’s still unsafe. What are they doing with all that data? I hardly have any private any information that isn’t available on the internet now. My personal information is worth protecting to me."

Waltraud Maassen in New Zealand says Google has long had a presence in his country:

"Streets and roads in Australia and New Zealand have been on Google Street View since December 2008. They captured people, animals, cars—everything. Then there was an uproar about privacy protection. So Google added distortion software that blurred all people and distinguishing marks. Now there’s little resistance to using Google’s images. And sellers and buyers in the real estate industry in particular find the street maps helpful. That means privacy is gone. And now governments are flagrantly spying on citizens in the name of fighting terrorism. If there were more effective laws, Google would have to abide by them. But it’s all in vain to this point because the governments are also interested in getting their hands on the data that Google has.‘‘

Hannelore Krause in Germany says some things are off limits:

"I don’t have any problem with the idea of streets and places and homes being filmed and put on the internet. It could end up being helpful at times. But if secret cameras start being used to spy on people through their windows or in their gardens and private spaces, then it should definitely go to the courts!‘‘

But Adalbert Goertz in the U.S. disagrees, he insists that:

"Google does not violate personal privacy.‘‘

Herbert Fuchs in Finland says he can understand the outrage:

"It definitely limits personal privacy because your normal internet user doesn‘t understand what kinds of motives people on the internet might have, both positive and negative. And Google is continuously expanding its data to include things like who lives where. You can understand why people are so distrustful of Google. This kind of globalization is a clear sign to many that people in the Western world will soon become completely transparent, to the advantage of those who already know too much about us.‘‘

René Junghans from Brazil believes the U.S. has gone too far:

"Of course Google violates privacy when they don’t get explicit permission to photograph people and places and put them on the internet. It’s been proven that criminals use Google Earth to seek out victims, but Google does nothing to protect those victims. I think it’s an outrage that the Americans dare to spy on cities around the world and put people in danger. It shouldn’t matter how and where people live and what kind of house they have. And Germans are not the only ones who are protesting against Google’s invasion of privacy. If there were ever to be a third world war, the Americans could use Google as a tool to conquer their enemies. You never know with the U.S. First it was Iraq, then Afghanistan, now maybe Iran—and we don’t know which countries it will target in the future if international politicians threaten American interests. Today there’s only one world power, and it’s the country that has Google.‘‘

The editors of “People and Politics” reserve the right to abridge viewers’ letters.