Berlin, Feb 23 (Calcutta Tube) US internet giant Google Tuesday defended its Street View application – a compendium of photographed city streets – from privacy concerns in Germany, where criticism of the company has mounted.
Minister Ilse Aigner, who is responsible for consumer affairs, again accused the US company of privacy invasion by photographing Germans’ homes without asking each householder in advance for permission.
For historical reasons, Germany has strict privacy laws, and despite launching Street View in the US and other European countries, it has yet to go public in Germany – despite a fleet of camera cars already having taken the photos.
‘We take privacy very seriously,’ said Arnd Haller, Google’s chief legal counsel in Germany, at a Berlin news conference. He said Germans could request that their premises not be depicted before the pictures went online.
Germany’s chief privacy commissioner, Peter Schaar, called for an anti-monopoly inquiry into Google with an option to forcibly break up the US firm into parts that would then compete with one another.
The company has faced growing hostility from the French and German governments after demands by the newspaper and book publishing industries that Google pay to display news and books on the internet.
Schaar said controversy over Street View was scratching the surface of a much bigger privacy issue.
‘Google Street View is just one piece of the jigsaw. All the other Google services are issues. The main issue is the inter-linking of personal data, not whether some car number plate get to be masked out or not.’
He called for a full-scale regulatory review.
‘I’m not accusing Google yet of actually abusing market dominance,’ he said. ‘But what has to be investigated is how they handle the data.’ He said regulation of Google had been too lax. Proposed changes to German competition law provided a means.
‘In extreme cases it will enable the break-up of a company,’ he said.
Some Germans have defended Google, welcoming its digital libraries as useful.
Parliamentarian Hans-Peter Uhl rejected Aigner’s call for the onus to be on Google to obtain consent before taking pictures. Uhl said buildings did not possess a legal right to privacy.
But Aigner said, ‘One can use such services to see where someone lives, how they live, what their tastes are, what lock they have on the front door and that’s just the start. Private things are being yanked before a global public with no means of protection.
‘Nobody has ever properly checked out this development.’
Aigner appeared to back off from her demand for advance permission from homeowners and referred to a 13-point code of practice agreed last year between Google and regional privacy commissioners.
‘I insist Google abide by its promise to process every objection before it publishes this service on the internet,’ she said.
Helga Naujoks, a Hamburg privacy official overseeing the code of practice, said Google’s compliance had been satisfactory so far.