Google Street View - Like it or Hate it

Recently people have been answering this question themselves and are contesting the use of the pictures of themselves, their houses, cars, etc. on Google Street View, the new geodata service of the Google group. This article will show how symptomatically German data protection law is only limping after reality and that there is need for action from parliament. It remains to be seen whether German lawmakers will have achieved something by this fall when Google Street View is to be officially launched.


Panorama Shots

Since 2008, ominous black cars with funny antennas on top have been driving through streets of Germany taking pictures of buildings, real estate lots, pedestrians, driving and parked cars; anything which is along the way. The pictures are assembled into a panoramic view which will be retrievable through the Google Service "Street View" in conjunction with Google Maps Art. The user can with the help of his PC virtually stroll through downtown. In Germany, this service is anticipated to start in autumn 2010. At first, the street pictures of in total 20 cities will be published and later street pictures of further cities, municipalities and counties. Street View starts with Berlin, Bielefeld, Bochum, Bonn, Bremen, Dortmund, Dresden, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Essen, Frankfurt am Main, Hamburg, Hannover, Köln, Leipzig, Mannheim, München, Nürnberg, Stuttgart, and Wuppertal.

Right to one's Picture and Freedom of Panoramic View

The right to one's own picture is derived from the general right of personality (art. 2 GG). Pursuant to §22 KunstUrhG, pictures of persons may only be published or distributed or publicly shown when this person agrees. Such is the general law but the statute also contains some exceptions. Google Street View does not meet these exceptions when showing persons. The exceptions never apply to showing buildings that are visible from public paths, streets, and ways. This so called "freedom of panaromic view" is regulated by §59 UrhG.

Data Protection of Geodata

Just shooting the pictures is not so much the issue. It is more that pictures of houses and real estate will combined with the house numbers and address book entries. Therefore, the connection between the picture and the exact location on a map is what brings about so much commotion. This makes it possible to point to a person as the owner or tenant of a building, one who lives and / or works in that house. The spectator can get an impression of your monetary and personal relations. Via the combination of house numbers, specific addresses, and permitted "panorama freedom", it now becomes personally related data subject to the protection of the Federal Act on Data Protection.

Houses, Gardens, Real Estate

The combination of such pictures of houses and addresses is actually nothing new. The public discussion about Street View shows the flaws in current data protection law - which has existed for a long time. In the mean time Google has gotten competition; some other companies are offering similar services in the Internet. §29 BDSG generally allows professional collecting and using of personally related data when the pictures have been taken in public area, i.e. pictures of house facades taken from the street. However, this becomes untrue when persons have an interest worthy of protection against collection and usage which outweighs the interests of the business.

On January 13, 2010, LG Cologne (re 28 O 578/09) dismissed a case where a company published pictures of a private home with its physical address without prior permission of the owner in the Internet. The owner first admonished the company without success and afterwards sought legal recourse in court for damages. The judges referring to ruling case law on photographs in public area dismissed the case. Any pedestrian could have made such pictures as well, in any case the scenario was known to the general public in the area. The owner's argument that such pictures could support burglary could not persuade the court. Disregarding these arguments, the Internet portal also contained editorial contributions on historic buildings, in relation to this fact the court pointed out to §41 BDSG which privileges organs of media and press.

Privacy in Public Area

Privacy in public area therefore enjoys less protection than classically would be the case. From the view of data protection law, there is a significant difference whether the picture was made from a public street or private property. In other words, when somebody sneaks into the back yard of a house and make photos that violates data protection law. When the pictures are made at the fence standing on public sidewalk and of what any pedestrian can see, such is permissible. Google Street View brings up different legal questions: Google cars have a fixed antenna in three meter height which makes the pics. No pedestrian can see a house from that position. Hedges and fences, which have been set up to block the sight, can be overcome while taking the pictures.

Filters for Persons and License Plates

After data protectors vehemently criticized Google, the company agreed to pixelate all pictures of persons and cars that fairly certain not to be conneceted. A software will be employed that automatically recognizes faces and cars and is to make them unrecognizable. However, this disguising tool is presently not fully functional so that in spite of the filter persons and cars remain recognizable. When you know you have been filmed by a Google car, then you can countermand its use before the launch. Afterwards, you can only report via the button "Report Problem (Problem melden)".

Pure Self -Commitment

Google has met the demands of German data protection agencies and agreed with them to give the possibility to countermand its use - also prior to publishing the data. From the legal perspective, Google ought to be on the safe side of the law, when its promises are kept. Everybody may protest against publishing pictures of his person, car, house, and apartment. An exception will remain public buildings and corporations. Though generally no complaint against publishing of public buildings and its surrounding is imaginable, this might be different in the case of a person wearing flashy and eye-catching clothes or particular physical characteristics. When you assume an infringement of your personality rights, it would be best in this case to hear the opinion of a lawyer specialized in media law. When you want to study their privacy concern, then visit:

Deletion upon Request

When protest is submitted prior to publishing, Google ensured not only to blur such parts of the pictures but also to delete the original shootings from which the panorama view was assembled. In other words, also the raw data will be deleted when the contesting is submitted at least one month prior to publishing. In the case you want to have your mugshot, um snapshot, deleted in advance from Google, you can tell them so per


After launch:

    1. Locate the image in Street View.
    2. Click "Report a problem" in the bottom-left of the image window.
    3. Complete the form and click "Submit."

The time limitation (October 15) is especially important for the dwellers in the major cities mentioned above. This date follows a demand of the Minister for Consumer Protection, Ilse Aigner. When contesting, you have to exactly describe the real estate and grab a satellite picture (from Google Maps with the exact coordinates). These dates are important because they are to be processed prior to the launch of Street View. After launch, you will only have the possibility to contest with the "Report a Problem" button in the bottom left corner of any and all map segments. More on Street View's Privacy regulations from can be found on this page:

Hamburg's Commissioner for Data Protection has compiled detailed information on contesting the different variations in an info brochure. In the case Google does not keep its promises or does not process a contest, then you can contact the Commissioner for Data Protection. Competent is Hamburg's Commissioner. Reports to the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection will be forwarded to Hamburg.

Amendment of Data Protection Act

The example Google Street View shows that the German data protection law does not reasonably meet the demands of internet age. Hamburg and Saarland have initiated a bill to the Bundesrat. In the mean time the relevant federal ministries see the need for an amendment but to not want to follow the initiative from states of Hamburg and Saarland but start their own initiative on dealing with geo data. Data protectors deem this as insufficient. The Federal Commissioner for Data Protection demands a general improvement of the rules on data protection, e.g. the creation of a general Register of Objectionsagainst publishing personal data in the Internet. Data Protectors refer to the judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court on "Rentention of Data Collected by Telecommunication Providers - Now Passé". What is not permissible for the state is not to be permissible for companies.

Reactions from Outside of Germany

Google Street View stirred up a lot of commotion as it became publically known that Google cars were not only taking pictures but also collecting data to Wi-Fi connections, among that maybe also eMails, passwords and other confidential data. The source code has already been submitted to Hamburg's Commissioner for Data Protection. This commotion has already hit the United States, where personal details are dealt with more openly. But the collecting of Wi-Fi details has brought in the attention of American investigation authorities because these details are something like an invitation to illegal surfing. The State Attorney of Connecticut is only one of a total of 38 State Attorneys that demand information from Google whether the information was collected accidently or systematically, whether they been sold or otherwise used. The cause "Google Street View" remains thrilling - all across the globe.


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