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Under fire

January 10, 2010

Germany's minister of justice has chastised internet giant Google over its business strategy and "lack of transparency" regarding user data.

Google logo
Does Google have too much information about citizens?Image: AP

In an interview with German magazine Spiegel, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said the company must clearly inform users of what is happening with their data.

"If this does not occur, then perhaps we will be required to step in as lawmakers," she said.

The minister said applications like Google Street View and Google Earth, which provide satellite images of almost everything from city streets to entire countries, are "absolutely worth exploring," with regard to data protection.

"I am bothered by this kind of rushing forward, this megalomania, which is also apparent in the case of Google Book Search," she said, adding that the US-based internet business was becoming "a monopoly, similar to Microsoft."

Google spokesperson Kay Oberbeck said it is an integral part of Google's services and product development, that "full transparency and options" are given to users.

Trouble in Europe

Google books
Google was fined by a French court for scanning 4,000 books from a French publisherImage: AP

Last month, the German government agreed to a plan that would fund the digitization of books, pictures, sculptures, notes, music and films and make them available on the Internet.

The project, called the German Digital Library (DDB), is expected to go online in 2011 and play a major role in the preservation of Germany's cultural identity independently of Google's Book Search program. Initial funding of 5 million euros ($7.6 million) as well as annual costs of 2.6 million euros will come from a German economic bail-out program and be split by the federal and state governments.

Also in December, Google's attempt to digitize all of the world's books hit a bump when a French court ruled the company had violated copyright laws. This was based on Google digitizing 4,000 books from one of France's biggest publishing houses, La Martiniere.

The court ordered Google to pay 300,000 euros ($430,000) in damages to three publishers owned by La Mariniere as well as a symbolic sum of one euro to the SNE Publisher's Association and the SGDL Society of Authors. Google was also charged an additional 10,000 euros a day for each day the digitized books remained in its data-base.

France is considering taxing Google's ad revenues to fund creative industries hit by the digital revolution.

Civic action

A Google car equipped with a camera taking pictures for Google Earth
Not everybody wants to see a Google car roaming their streetsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

A German city opposed to Google's Street View passed a law in December 2009 to charge the internet behemoth a fee for photographing its streets.

Ratingen, a city on the outskirts of Dusseldorf, voted through a special use fee of 20 euros for every kilometer of street travelled by Google camera cars, which take the house-by-house pictures.

Pressed by angry homeowners, town officials adopted the law after receiving legal advice that they had no power to stop Google. German privacy officials have declared the photography legal after Google promised to skip buildings whose owners object in advance.

Municipal special use fees usually apply to commercial services, such as people setting up stalls on public streets to sell fruit.

Officials said Ratingen has 309 kilometres of streets, so the fee for photographing all of them each time would be 6,180 euros. They added that Google had not tried to take pictures in Ratingen yet, but the municipality wanted to be ready.

Editor: Toma Tasovac