A Quarter Million Germans Opt Out of Google Street View

Germans, skittish about their privacy, aren’t all taking kindly to Google’s nosy cameras. Could other countries follow suit?

Google Street View car


The Germans, a privacy-loving sort, are not taking kindly to Google’s officious cameras. Just as Google is gearing up to launch Street View in Germany, 250,000 residents have asked Google to block images of their houses, reports AFP.

Google frames it in minimizing terms: “Out of a total of 8,458,084 households, we received 244,237 opt-outs, which equals 2.89 percent of households,” Andreas Tuerk, Google’s product manager in Germany, blogged the other day.

Street View has already gone live in 20 other countries, and no blur-out option was offered elsewhere. In Germany, though, privacy is paramount; the country has its own “Consumer Protection Minister,” Ilse Aigner, who advocated legal regulation of Google’s activities. Why the German skittishness? Well, for one thing, as anyone who saw the 2006 film The Lives of Others knows, anything smacking of surveillance is a sore spot in a country that not so very long ago saw a lot of it from the East German Stasi secret police.

Google Street View has been taking a lot of international flak lately, over privacy violations of a different sort. A number of countries–Germany first, then South Korea, and just recently Spain and Canada–determined that the company’s Street View cars were ilegally collecting data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks as they roamed the city streets snapping photos. Emails, usernames, passwords, phone numbers, street addresses, and in some cases medical records were collected. Google has claimed its collection of 600 GB of data was all a big accident, and has yet to meet any serious repercussions.

Maybe the German do-not-view registry is partly an effort to avoid legal wrangles down the road. Could the German blurring catch on elsewhere, though? Now that folks in other countries are aware that it’s an option, will we see another wave of attempted opt-outs from Google Street View? If given the option, would you pixel out your own house–or were you too impressed with that recent Arcade Fire video to care?

[Image: Flickr user Sanchom]

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.