Google Street View in Germany

I wonder why the federal minister for consumer protection (hopefully a good enough translation for “Verbraucherschutzministerin”) Ilse Aigner has concerns about Street View, because those concerns are completely unrelated to protecting the consumer, because the consumer is the one viewing the images in the browser, and not the person being photographed.

I have no reason to believe that Google Street View is illegal, I see no difference between a photo taken by a company and a photo taken by a single person. If Google Street View were illegal, distribution of every picture taken in the public would have to be considered illegal as well.

And creating laws limiting the height at which the camera is placed to e.g. 1.8 meters sounds like discriminating against persons who are e.g. 1.85 meters (“You’re too tall, you’re not allowed to take a picture”).

More information about this topic can be found on e.g. http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,676616,00.html.

8 thoughts on “Google Street View in Germany

  1. One must consider that the photos are linked to a specific place and accessible to millions of people. Actually, it isn’t the same as a photo taken by a single person…

    1. Oh well,

      don’t you think when I’m taking a picture of a guy going to a red light district (only because I was at this very time there taking pictures) and posting this picture on my blog, and sadly his wife reads my blog…
      I don’t see the difference doing this or Google taking pictures by car and publishing it to the masses.

      Regards
      \sh

  2. Apart from the pictures being related to specific locations (unlike most photos taken by individuals) and being accessible by millions of people (or even billions of people), unlike most photos taken by individuals, it is already illegal in germany to use helping devices (like ladders) to take photos of private property. At least that is what some lawyer explained to me.
    Assume for a moment that you own a nice house on a property which is surrounded by a wall a little over 2 meters high. How would you react if someone came by, puts a ladder to the wall, climbs it at takes pictures of your house, your garden and everything else? Now add to it that those photos are linked to satelite photos, maps and other data on one comfortable website.
    I – like almost all other people I know – am quite uncomfortable with that.

  3. It’s not as easy as that (unfortunately).

    In Germany, it is, in fact, legal to photograph and publish anything — including parts of private properties — that one can see as a pedestrian on a public thoroughfare. (There are some restrictions concerning works of art that are not permanently installed.) The problem with the Google Street View cars, as far as that law is concerned, is that their cameras are not at a pedestrian’s eye level but rather higher up; the law does not specify an actual maximum allowable height for pedestrians but it is fairly safe to say that people don’t get to grow as tall as a Google Street View car’s camera platform. For that matter, the photography law does stipulate, in effect, that one needs to be standing on the actual street for it to apply, so no erecting a tall ladder on the pavement to obtain snaps of the super model next door’s back garden and swimming pool.

    Where Ms Aigner comes in is that in Germany right now it seems to be fashionable for politicians to take pot-shots at Google. The company has attracted some bad press to do with the book scanning project, and the recent brouhaha around Google Buzz has also resulted in a lot of schadenfreude, so it makes sense for the minister for consumer protection to try and gain some badly-needed brownie points by standing up for people’s »private sphere«; one may be forgiven for asking why Ms Aigner didn’t appear to feel the same about the wholesale storage for six months of everyone’s telecommunications connection data (phone numbers, IP and e-mail addresses, dates and times, the works), which was instituted by the previous government (half of which is the present government) and summarily declared invalid only today in constitutional court.

  4. Just a quickie, which I don’t think that many people have realized just yet. Mostly because we are still so dazed and confused by getting to so much (online) software for free.

    Here goes: In the Google era you are no longer the consumer, you are the commodity. The advertisers are the consumers.

    It was actually my wife who said that. 🙂

    Nevertheless, both I and my wife happily continue to use and enjoy the stuff we get served for free on the Internet.

  5. There isn’t really a difference, but the guy in the red light district would have a good chance to sue you for damages (here in Germany, anyway) after his wife filed for divorce and was awarded the house, car, gold-plated dinner cutlery, etc. This is because you don’t get to publish anybody’s picture on your blog (regardless of whether you’re a multinational data-collecting enterprise like Google or just yourself) unless that person is, say, a politician at a rally, a well-known athlete in competition, or a celebrity doing whatever it is that celebrities do that makes them famous — in other words, something that goes on in the public eye in the first place. In all other cases, you need to ask the person in the picture for permission before you get to put it on your blog unless they’re essentially part of the »background«. (There is a sizable grey area around issues like whether it is OK to publish a holiday-making celebrity in a skimpy bikini — paparazzi land, so to speak.)

    Google tries to work around this by deliberately blurring areas of their published Street View pictures that look like human faces (supposedly they hang on to the unblurred originals but don’t publish them, which is another point of contention in the German situation). In any case, they are likely to have enough spare change lying around to settle any claims for damages awarded to red-light district visitors whose pictures in Google Street View have accidentally not been blurred — which (no offense intended) is probably the main difference between Google and you.

    (Consider also that we’re talking about Germany here. You’re German, but for the benefit of our American readers it is worth pointing out that in the US, a court will award you $$$ for spilling your hot coffee on your lap while driving because the cup didn’t carry a VERY HOT DON’T SPILL notice. In Germany the judge will politely tell you to not waste their time since you are supposed to figure out on your own, before the fact, that hot coffee on the legs tends to hurt. Also German civil law does not contain the concept of »punitive damages«, where you get to sue the coffee company for millions of dollars even though your pants were only $19.95.)

    1. (My previous comment was supposed to be in reply to shermann’s comment above.)

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