German privacy experts wary of Google photo project

Cars mounted with roof-top cameras on them have been trolling the streets of Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt, taking pictures for Google’s “Street View” service. But German data protection officials fear it breaches citizens’ privacy.

German privacy experts wary of Google photo project
Photo: DPA

Google Street View offers panoramic street-level views of selected cities and allows Internet users to click through images of streets in 40 cities in the United States. It is meant to allow people to see and explore a city in detail without actually physically visiting it.

But to some German data protection officials, the blanket photography reveals too much information about residents and how they live. Thilo Weichert, the data protection commissioner of the state of Schleswig-Holstein, called “Street View” a “data file on living conditions” that did not need to be accessible to everyone with an Internet connection.

The Google project is also of concern to Alexander Dix, Berlin’s privacy commissioner, who worries that buildings and addresses visible on “Street View” could enable information to be traced about occupants.

Google has said that in the interest of privacy protection, a computer program makes faces and license plates caught on camera illegible before they are posted on line. Dix said he had doubts whether the automated anonymisation would work and that he was sure that Germans would complain.