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Google Criticized by German Data-Privacy Officials Over Street View Plans

Google Inc. was criticized by Germany data-privacy officials over plans to give property owners a four-week deadline to stop their buildings from showing up on the company’s Street View mapping service.

Google, owner of the world’s largest search engine, yesterday said it would introduce Street View in the 20 biggest German cities, including Berlin, Bonn and Munich, “by the end of the year.” Property owners in the cities have a month, starting next week, to register to make their buildings unrecognizable using an online tool, Google said.

“This surprised me very much,” Johannes Caspar, Hamburg’s data-protection regulator, said in a statement yesterday. The “quick introduction of the objection tool and the decision to start it during the summer holidays” along with the company’s refusal to have a telephone complaint hotline “create doubts about Google’s interests in a simple and user-friendly implementation.”

Google’s Street View plans have triggered probes from data- protection regulators in Germany, Spain, France, Italy and the Czech Republic. South Korean police yesterday raided Google’s Seoul office as part of an investigation into the service. Google’s privacy practices have also come under scrutiny in Canada and by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

Data Protection

“Objections should be possible at all times,” Germany’s Federal Commissioner of Data Protection Peter Schaar said on his blog yesterday. “It should also be ensured that all complaints received are dealt with before” Street View services in Germany begin.

Ilse Aigner, Germany’s minister for consumer protection, today joined Schaar in asking that all requests be considered. Aigner said Google told her a few weeks ago that all incoming requests will be implemented, according to an e-mailed statement.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said he “welcomed the right to object” offered by Google.

Since April 2009, people in Germany have been able to request in writing that their house not appear in Street View, Laura Scott, a spokeswoman for Mountain View, California-based Google, said in an e-mail. The online tool available as of next week is “an extra opportunity for people” to request the same.

“We’ve been very careful to keep the German data protection authorities informed at every stage of this product’s development because we work hard to ensure that they, and German users, understand the various tools we have in place,” Scott said.

Written Requests

In its statement yesterday, Google said it will implement all written requests it got from people wanting to obscure their buildings on Street View. After the four-week deadline for responding via the online tool, only people from regions outside the 20 cities concerned can continue making requests using the tool or in writing.

The 20 cities where Google said Street View will be rolled out by the end of the year are: Berlin, Bielefeld, Bochum, Bonn, Bremen, Dortmund, Dresden, Duisburg, Dusseldorf, Essen, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hanover, Cologne, Leipzig, Mannheim, Munich, Nuremberg, Stuttgart and Wuppertal.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Bodoni in Brussels via sbodoni@bloomberg.net

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