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250,000 Germans ask to be removed from Google Street View

Service thought to be launching in Germany soon

Close to 250,000 German households have requested that Google scrub their homes from its Street View imagery program as the company nears launching the service in Germany amid continuing privacy concerns.

Google revealed it had reviewed 244,237 opt-out requests, representing 2.89 percent of Germany's 8,458,084 households. About two-thirds of those opt-outs came via an online tool Google opened up in August to receive the requests, said Andreas Türk, product manager for Street View in Germany, in a blog. The company also honours letter and email requests.

Company representatives weren't able to immediately provide opt-out rates for other countries that would indicate if opposition to Street View in Germany is greater than elsewhere.

Google is on track to soon launch Street View in 20 of the largest cities in Germany, Türk said. Google's Street View - which provides panoramic street-level photography to accompany its Maps web application - has faced opposition and scrutiny from regulators and privacy watchdogs.

Google remains under investigation by Hamburg's Data Protection Authority (DPA) and that city's prosecutor's office. Google's Street View vehicles had been collecting data traffic from unencrypted Wi-Fi routers at the same time those vehicles were collecting images.

The company immediately halted the program and expressed regret, but data protection authorities in a host of other countries including Spain and South Korea continue to investigate whether Google violated data protection regulations.

Hamburg's DPA is also looking at how Google retains the personal information of Germans who have requested their properties be omitted as well as how those obscured images are stored.

In the meantime, Google is gingerly moving forward with Street View in Germany. But the process for deleting images from Street View is complex, Türk warned.

"We've worked very hard to keep the numbers as low as possible but in any system like this there will be mistakes, Türk said. "For instance, some people asked us to blur their house, but didn't give us the precise location.

"In such cases the household can still ask us to blur the image using the 'report a problem' tool on Street View once imagery is published, and we'll do it as fast as we can," Türk continued. "The same is true of faces and car licence plates that our automatic blurring technology may have missed."

Google plans to launch Street View with images of Berlin, Bielefeld, Bochum, Bonn, Bremen, Dortmund, Dresden, Duisburg, Dusseldorf, Essen, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hanover, Cologne, Leipzig, Mannheim, Munich, Nuremberg, Stuttgart and Wuppertal.

Earlier this week, Spain's Data Protection Agency said it is investigating Google for up to five infractions of its laws over the collection of Wi-Fi data, for which the company could face more than €300,000 in fines. In August, South Korean police raided Google's offices and launched an investigation into unauthorised data collection and illegal wiretapping.

See also: Google gets 1,116 UK gov't requests for user data


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