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An image of how a Google Street View photo might look with one house blocked out. Koeln Blog

Google allows Germans to opt out of Street View

The search giant lets Germans pixelate their houses beyond recognition. Are faces next?

GOOGLE HAS voluntarily opened a new service allowing German users to pre-emptively remove images of their properties from its Street View service before it launches next month.

The search company had come under enormous public pressure to allow users opt-out of the service after the country’s biggest newspaper, Bild, encouraged citizens to voice their concerns that the data could be used maliciously, such as by would-be thieves to identify potential entrances to a building.

The move is an unusual one for Google, coming without any legal imperative or requirement to allow such a service – especially given the fact that local legal experts do not believe that property details are considered personal information, which would be protected by law.

Industry insiders now wonder whether Google will offer a similar opt-out service to users in other countries where the service currently, or intends to, operate – including Ireland, where the service is expected to launch later this year.

It also raises the possibility that users may in future be able to request that their own personal images – if they, for example, are depicted standing on a street while Google’s cameras were passing – be removed.

Residents can now remove houses they own, or live in, before the service if they fill out an online form before September 15. Those visiting the opt-out site, however, are told it is “a pity” they wish to remove their property, because the service allows users:

…to see where your family and friends live, no matter how far you are from each other, or if you want to explore your next holiday destination in in advance.

Germany’s interior ministry is currently drawing up plans to curb the ability of Google to roll out the Street View service nationally, though it is illegal under Germany’s Grundgesetz, the constitution, to enact laws which single penalise any individual company.

Despite being one of the leading voices supporting an opt-out clause in the service, chancellor Angela Merkel has indicated that she won’t be removing her residence from the service, with a spokesman explaining that Merkel’s address was already well known to the public.