Google Retreats on Street View; Microsoft, NAVTEQ Just Get Started

Google Retreats on Street View; Microsoft, NAVTEQ Just Get Started
The last few days saw both Google confirming it will not be collecting any more pictures for its Street View service in Germany and Microsoft/NAVTEQ announcing the collection of street pictures across Europe.

Google, which launched Street View in Germany last summer, faced an unprecedented opposition from the German population. In October the company revealed that 244,237 people in the 20 biggest German cities asked the search engine giant to blur their house on Street View (read our previous report here). Now the Mountain View company is confirming to have halted its German program.

In addition to that, on April 6, the Swiss Federal Administrative Court (BVGer) ruled that Google must make all faces and number plates unrecognisable before the pictures can be published on the Internet. “In the vicinity of sensitive facilities, the anonymity of individuals must be ensured“, said the cort in a public statement. The BVGer concluded that “the interest of the public in having a visual record and the commercial interests of the defendants in no way outweigh the rights over one's own image, as the pictures can be made more or totally unrecognisable.“

The French privacy protection authority (CNIL) also recently voiced its discontentment over Google Street View and Latitude and fined Google accordingly (read our report).

Historical location data in Google Latitude
Historical location data in Google Latitude
However, all of that does not seem to have deterred Microsoft and NAVTEQ which have just started their own data collection programme for Microsoft Street Side in Europe. Paris and London have just started and a few German cities are planned in May: Munich, Nurnberg, Erlangen, Augsburg and Ingolstadt.

Obviously Microsoft and NAVTEQ are explaining that they will only patrol with their cars in non residential streets and blur faces and plate numbers from day one. One might however think that delaying this programme in Germany could have been a smart idea.

But the whole debate at stake here goes far beyond Google Street View and Microsoft Street Side. Citizens and governments in Europe - and to some extend in North America - are getting more and more concerned about privacy issues, especially when images and location data are at stake.

Let’s face it no technology is immune of failure: data leaks and security breaches are common place - not heard about Epsilon yet ? So why should we believe that Google, Foursquare and others could be better protected and keep our whereabouts private?

Thursday, April 14th 2011

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