Google Hopes to Launch German Street View This Year

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Concerns over privacy mean Google has yet to launch its Street View service in Germany, more than a year-and-a-half after its camera cars began photographing German streets.

"We hope to launch it this year," said Google Germany's Communications and Public Affairs Manager Lena Wagner at a press conference at the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany.

Google had no news to announce about progress with the service, but it called the press conference to reassure German journalists about its respect for German privacy laws.

"We are working on specific issues, for example a tool to say some houses should not be included at launch," Wagner said.

That tool is one of a number of changes Google promised German data protection authorities it would make before launching the service in Germany, Wagner said.

It's different from the image removal tool Google provides in countries where Street View has already launched. In those countries, Google allows people to request the removal of images only after they have been published on the Internet for anyone to see.

While it develops the automated tool, Google Germany is already accepting requests by mail not to publish images. Germans can write to Google to ask to have their house excluded from the Street View database.

"We have received letters from over 1,000 people since June 2009," Wagner said.

As it does for Street View in other countries, Google will also blur faces and car number plates identified by automated image recognition tools. These occasionally let a face or number plate slip through: "No technology is perfect, but we are trying our best," Wagner said.

Even without the changes Google has promised data protection authorities, the service is "100 percent compliant with German law," according to Kay Oberbeck, head of corporate communications at Google Germany.

Despite these reassurances, Germans in general seem guarded with their privacy, and most were reluctant to be interviewed on camera by IDG News Service.

"I'm at the moment a little bit undecided whether I go to Google to remove my house from there," said Andreas Myka, one of the few who agreed to talk.

If reason won't sway Germans, then perhaps ridicule will. That's what Google Chief Technology Advocate Michael Jones is counting on.

"Romania and Liechtenstein will have it and Germany won't have it, and they will feel silly," said Jones, who founded what is now Google Earth.

German data protection authorities have only asked for an opt-out process, without a way for people to opt back in to having their homes displayed in Street View, said Jones.

"If you buy a house, and the previous owner opted out, then your house will be blurry forever," he said.

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