This is now a familiar story: European privacy concerns and complaints against Google Street View. From angry mobs to European regulators, Google is confronting many more objections as it tries to visually map The Continent than it did in the US.
This installment involves German “data protection regulators” in Hamburg who object to the way that Google is collecting images and the perceived lack of protection for personal privacy. Sanctions are threatened if Google doesn’t comply with regulators’ requests. As the New York Times reports:
[Data protection regulator Johannes] Caspar said during an interview that Google and the German data protection officials were at odds on 12 points involving the operation of Street View. German privacy law forbids dissemination of photos of people or their property without their consent.
The most significant disputes involving Street View, Mr. Caspar said, concern Google’s unauthorized filming of houses and private property and the company’s handling of the photographic data it records but which is later removed from Street View following complaints by property owners . . .
The data protection administrators of 16 German states, led by Hamburg and the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, have objected to Google’s plans for its Street View service. In Kiel, a city on the Baltic Sea, residents last year put stickers on their front doors warning Google not to film their property for the service.
I’m sure that Google will find a way to resolve the dispute. However the conflict over privacy and Street View illustrates the issues that arise when technology crosses borders but laws are different. This issue is an old one and has come up in contexts such as an eBay auction of Nazi artifacts when that auction can virtually reach into states (i.e., Germany) prohibiting such activities.
Another point here is the anti-American subtext in this debate. Google is perceived by many Europeans, much like the US itself, as an intruder and potentially negative influence on its culture. I’m certain that if an EU based company were doing Street View it would face less hostility. Of course the company would probably be more aware of all these sensitivities and issues and perhaps handle them differently. Indeed, there’s a perception of arrogance on Google’s part that many of the locals are also reacting to undoubtedly.