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Street View

February 28, 2010

Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Germany would not hamper the release of Google's controversial Street View application - despite the privacy concerns voiced by the country's consumer affairs minister.

Google Street View camera on a car
Google has been taking pictures on German streets since 2008Image: picture-alliance/dpa

"Those that consider [Street View] to be an invasion of their private sphere can make use of the right to object," Merkel said in her weekly podcast on Saturday, February 27.

The Consumer Affairs Ministry has drawn up a template letter - available for download from its website - for this purpose. The internet giant has agreed to blur license plates and faces of individuals who do not want to have their photos appear online.

Street View screenshot
Street View gives users ground-level views of streets around the worldImage: picture alliance/dpa

Consumer Affairs Minister Ilse Aigner has previously threatened to take legal action to prevent Google Street View from offering photos on the country's cities and streets.

"With these services, I can see where and how someone lives, what private preferences he or she has, how the front door is secured, and what kind of curtains are hanging in the window," Aigner said. "Private things are dragged to the global public without the possibility of protection."

Aigner, a member of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, had demanded tighter legal constraints on how Google distorts images of people and private property, but these now seem unlikely to materialize.

"The buildings in question should not be recognizable, and house numbers, faces and cars must also be made completely unrecognizable," Aigner said. "Enlarging the pixels is just not good enough."

Filming the streets

Street View, which offers panoramas of thousands of streets on the internet, already covers large areas of the US and the UK. It seamlessly stitches together photos taken by camera cars which can capture 360-degree images. Google has been gathering images of streets and public spaces in Germany since 2008.

The online service began in 2007 in four cities in the United States. Australia and Japan soon followed.

In total Google has initiated similar imaging projects in 19 countries, including many in Europe. Satellites help pinpoint the panoramic scenes on maps using geo-data systems.

Minister for the Internet

Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel tried to settle the issue on SaturdayImage: AP

August-Wilhelm Scheer, president of the internet industry association Bitkom, criticized Aigner's campaign against Street View as shallow populism. He also criticized the German government for not having a clear internet policy. He accused the various ministries of cherry-picking internet-related issues and kicking up some publicity around it.

"We need a minister of state for the internet, like we have a minister of state for culture," Scheer said.

Merkel said she believed in the freedom of the internet, but emphasized that it was not a law-free zone.

"That is why we will always make sure that in cases like child pornography, for example, it will always be possible to delete such websites to protect people," she said.

Google intends to use the computer conference CeBIT about to be held in Hannover to inform the public about Street View.

Editor: Toma Tasovac