Why the Germans are fussing about Street View

A street in Fuessen, Bavaria - ©iStockphoto.com/trait2lumiereFor several months, one topic has been in the news regularly in Germany: Google Street View.

This has several reasons, but to put it bluntly: Google didn’t ask permission.

Germany has some very strict privacy laws, many of which come as a result of the country’s recent history.  Those residents that lived through the period of the GDR are especially aware of people knowing too much about them.

There are, for example, rules on how photos of people can be used, and until a few years ago, you needed special permission to take an aerial photograph.

But whilst these situations are fairly clear cut and something that every photographer here needs to be aware of, taking a photograph of a building is different.

Many people take the opinion, that you need permission to photograph and then publish pictures of someone’s home.  On the other hand, I know of experts who say that this is not the case.  If taken from a public area, ie. the street, without any form of technical assistance, they say it is not a problem to take that photo and publish it.

So what did Google do wrong?

Well, for a start, they mounted the camera on a car and placed it 3 metres above the ground.  That way, the camera can see over fences, so it is assisted.

But it didn’t stop there.  They also apparently captured and stored data from wireless networks while they were in front of the houses.  If your network was not encrypted, it may well be that Google now has some of your data.

Then they offered people the chance to have their houses blacked out in the system.  Normally, a company that wants to use consumer data here has to ask permission, not just go ahead and say “if you don’t like it, well you can always apply to have your data deleted”.

And yet Google have had discussions with data protection agencies, and that’s the way it’s going to stay.

Which means that the rush is now on for people to get their applications in before Street View goes live, by visiting the “Blur your house” page.

I, on the other hand, will be keeping my fingers crossed that the advertising on my car was in the right place at the right time!


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About Graham

Graham Tappenden is a British ex-pat who first came to Germany as a placement student in 1993, returning in 1995 to live there permanently. He has been writing for AllThingsGerman.net since 2006. When not writing blog posts or freelancing for the Oberurseler Woche and other publications he works as a self-employed IT consultant solving computer problems and designing websites. In 2016 he gained German citizenship.


  1. Wow! Google is really pushing the envelope! I love your last paragraph, Graham…hopefully your advertising was on your car at the right time and the right place. That's looking on the bright side!


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