Google Street View Maps Cause Stir In Germany Internet giant Google wants to extend its popular Street View mapping service to include 20 German cities by the end of the year. But those plans have sparked a fierce debate. German politicians and civil rights watchdogs complain that the service and its detailed photographs of city streets violate people's privacy.
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Google Street View Maps Cause Stir In Germany

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Google Street View Maps Cause Stir In Germany

Google Street View Maps Cause Stir In Germany

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

There is a fierce debate in Germany over the Street View option on Google Maps. That's the service where Google provides street level photos of city streets and the surrounding landscape. Google wants to launch it for 20 German cities by the end of the year.

As Kyle James reports, some say it will violate people's privacy.

(Soundbite of a news clip)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

KYLE JAMES: Google has been in the news all this month, as the country debates whether Street View is a technological wonder or a privacy killer. Advocates love the high-definition pictures that let one take virtual walks down city streets around the world. Opponents like Babette Dahler(ph) from Potsdam, near Berlin, have a different take.

Ms. BABETTE DAHLER: (Through translator) I think it's an invasion of privacy because every front yard is filmed. You can look in every window, and you don't know when that camera car is going to drive past. If you're on the street, you're photographed. I don't think that's such a good thing.

JAMES: Neither do Germany's consumer watchdogs and privacy advocates.

Falk Lueke is with the German Federation of Consumer Organisations. He's got Street View open on his office computer.

Mr. FALK LUEKE (Policy Officer, German Federation of Consumer Organisations): We're right now at Plaza (unintelligible) in Paris, in France. And we're zooming in a little bit.

JAMES: He says Germans are worried that Street View could be used by burglars or companies looking to target their sales pitches. People might be captured by Google's cameras doing something they don't necessarily want the world to see. In London, one man was caught coming out of an adult book store.

A survey this month found that just over half of Germans don't want their houses to appear on the service.

Mr. LUEKE: In the German idea of self-determination, there is no reason and no right for somebody else to disclose your privacy. And we just don't like others to spy on us.

JAMES: Privacy is a sensitive issue in Germany, more so than in the United States, France or the U.K., whose cities are already on Street View. Germany already has strict data protection laws on its books. Part of that has to do with the country's history, says Jesko Kaltenbaek, a psychology researcher at Berlin's Freie University.

Mr. JESKO KALTENBAEK (Psychology Researcher, Freie University): (Through Translator) Germans had very bad experiences regarding personal data during the Nazi era and in East Germany. So privacy is highly valued here, and some fear it's being eroded again.

JAMES: Google has been trying to allay those fears, emphasizing that it pixellates people's faces and car license plates. It's taken out full-page ads in newspapers and magazines explaining the service. And, only in Germany, Google will allow people to opt out of Street View before it goes live. Their houses will be blurred in the photographs.

Philipp Schindler is Google's V.P. for northern and central Europe.

Mr. PHILIPP SCHINDLER (Vice President for Northern and Central Europe, Google): (Through Translator) In Germany, there are very specific worries about Street View. We understand that, and hopefully, we have addressed those concerns.

JAMES: But not to everyone's satisfaction. Politicians are now talking about tightening Germany's data protection laws. But for some people, especially those who grew up with the Internet, all this is overblown.

Internet entrepreneur Roman Hansler says the debate represents a distrust of big private companies and of rapidly changing technology.

Mr. ROMAN HANSLER (Internet Entrepreneur): The problem with the discussion right now is that it is totally irrational, and there's a lot of knowledge missing. I mean, you know, now, Google comes and privacy and data protection and it all creates an explosion. It's really - it's crazy.

JAMES: While Germany debates the future of Street View in the country, many aren't hesitating to use it. Google likes to point out that hundreds of thousands of Germans currently access the service to explore cities in other countries.

For NPR News, I'm Kyle James in Berlin.

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