After a strong wave of criticism against Street View, in April 2009 Google offered German citizen an opt-out solution first by writing a letter, then via a special online tool.
Google is obviously playing down this huge number, explaining that these opt out equals only 2.89% of the households (8,458,084) in these 20 German cities. But Google also revealed that “Two out of three opt-outs came through our online tool”, which implicitly means that over 80,000 German citizens wrote a letter to Google to opt out.
The German public opinion is very concerned about privacy, a legacy of the Nazi and Stasi eras. In addition, major political figures, including the consumer affairs minister, Ilse Aigner, as well as data protection officials, have come out strongly against Google.
This consumer backlash on privacy is obviously not limited to Google even if the Mountain View corporation has the largest visibility from a consumer standpoint. Indeed, mapping companies such as NAVTEQ or TomTom (Tele Atlas) are gathering the same kind of street level imagery which is used by third parties (Microsoft in the case of NAVTEQ) in their products.
NAVTEQ has for example issued a company statement about street level imagery that can be found directly in the main menu of its web home page.
* Our technology, developed in partnership with Microsoft, includes industry-leading automated software and advanced algorithms used to detect and blur faces and license plates to protect individual privacy; images are published only after blurring
* Our focus is on key commercial areas, public roads and areas with high Search or Point-of-Interest (POI) concentration; residential/ suburban areas are not our focus
* The images captured are the same types that tourists or city residents would take while exploring by bus, car or on foot
* In accordance with each country's requirements, NAVTEQ has also allowed the appropriate government officials and non-government privacy advocates in each country to assess these plans so they feel the privacy of their citizens is being safeguarded
The Chicago-based company even provides a schedule of its street level imagery collection campaign that is regularly updated. A campaign for Paris and London will start in November while New York City and San Francisco are getting completed now. Not surprisingly, no German city is planned in the foreseeable future.