Google meets with German officials over Street View fiasco

Google is trying to sort out its differences with German officials over a widespread initiative by the country to clamp down on its Street View service.

The search engine giant is meeting with ministers to try to reconcile a partnership after the government questioned Google’s promise to allow citizens to opt out of Street View.  It’s meeting with the government to try to find a way of respecting privacy while also not blocking the whole project.

Google plans to add Germany’s 20 largest cities to Street View by the end of 2010, joining 23 countries already included. Google said human faces and car licence plates would be electronically blurred. However, so far it has not gone down too well – leaving the German government to weigh in on new laws for online data protection in the wake.

When Google announced it wanted to run its service in Germany, citizens requested that their homes be kept out of the service. This resulted in an opt-out opportunity, where citizens have until October 15 to tell the company they do not want to be involved.

Although Google has said that it has received many requests, it would not say how many, and ministers are worried as to how Google will cope.

Germany has some of the toughest privacy laws in Europe. It has a data commissioner for each state and its Hamburg commissioner for data protection, Dr Johannes Caspar, has been an outspoken critic of Google.

He has in the past voiced concerns about the opt outs, which he said were “unfortunately not respected”.

In May, Google admitted that for the past three years it had wrongly collected information people have sent over unencrypted wi-fi networks. The issue came to light after German authorities asked to audit the data the company’s Street View cars gathered as they took photos.

Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner, who has also clashed with social networking site Facebook over its handling of user data, told a newspaper she expected tougher legislation.

“We must legally regulate the collection and use of geographic image data,” she told Tagesspiegel Daily, adding that she felt companies could not be left to regulate themselves.

If an agreement can’t be made and Google cannot prove it will honour these promises a blanket ban will be placed on all services.