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Why is there no Street View in Germany?

Google Maps’ Street View of Germany is the legacy of the violent German history.

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  • Google may have mapped 99 percent of American roads since 2007, but most of Germany remains unmarked on Google Map Street View.
  • Despite its success, the tech giant remains unable to breach the privacy of the sensitive Germans.
  • In 2010, instead of mapping the 20 largest cities of Germany, Google had to pay fines and leave the streets of Germany alone.

At one point, everyone has to give up on something. No one is above this, not even businesses. And yes, even tech giant, Google.

A major technology company like Google has its hands in almost everything Internet-based: translation, mail, location services, advertisement, cloud computing services, and software. It runs a robust infrastructure with the ability to re-create your entire profile, including who you are and where your interests lie. It can even predict things you are most likely to buy. But even with all these abilities, there are some things even Google cannot do.

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Photo credit: Google Maps/Big Think

One of the most prominent examples of Google’s limitations is its inability to breach into the privacy of the Germans and the Austrians. If you haven’t yet, you can go on Google Maps, drag the Pegman over Europe and on to Germany or Austria and you will see what we mean: the image of jealously guarded privacy. Virtually nothing. The extent of the definition of German privacy all depends on what type of data, and it is all for a reason.

German Privacy

The very first article of Germany’s post-war constitution reads:

Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.

Post-war Germany vowed Nie Wieder (“Never again”) to submit to total citizen control and violation of privacy. This intense resolve is the legacy of two totalitarian systems in German history. Both the Nazi’s Gestapo (“Secret State Police”) and East Germany’s Stasi (“State Security”) were instrumental in the violation of the citizens’ right to privacy and private thoughts or acts.

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Photo credit: Anastasia Shuraeva/Pexels.com

The people of post-war Germany became jealously guarded of their data, to the point of willingness to pay the highest price for protection.

Research presented in the Harvard Business Review shared that the average German will go as far as paying $184 to protect their personal health data. This is a high price, but an invaluable need for them. It is particularly puzzling for Germans to see the American willingness to share their names, addresses, friends’ lists, and purchase histories online.

The proof of this is in the strengthened definition of privacy for post-war Germany. In 1970, the German state of Hesse passed the first data protection law in the world. The Germans braced the inviolability of private information and negotiated the definition of “grave intrusion” to the citizens’ right to “informational self-determination” between 1979 to 1980.

Case in point: Google Street View’s German debacle

Germans harbor a deep distrust of any form of sharing of personal information. Regardless of whether it trumps efficiency, Germany refused to get on the digitization train. Big tech companies like Google and Facebook and even the more efficient online financial transactions are a big no-no. So when Google announced that it would map Germany’s largest cities by the end of 2010, it outraged the people.

In the beginning, it was a small outrage. Or so they thought. Google naturally blurs faces and vehicle license plates. They allowed 3 percent of the German households to request blurring of the front of their houses. But, when Hamburg’s data protection security supervisor Johannes Caspar found out that Google is ripping off personal data from unencrypted WiFi networks, a high level of resistance rose. Germany had gone as far as calling Google’s “comprehensive photo offensive” a “million-fold violation of the private sphere.”

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Photo credit: Vojta Kovařík/Pexels

This eventually led to investigations and resulted in Google paying a fine of $189,225. The mapping debacle in Germany ended when Google cooperated and released the collected German data to the government. In a statement, Google’s global privacy counsel, Peter Fleischer, said, “We work hard to get privacy right at Google, but in this case, we didn’t, which is why we quickly tightened up our systems to address the issue.” Eventually, Google published images of Germany’s streets in 2011 and just kind of gave up and left it at that.

Google Street View After Effects

Following the German’s revelation of Google’s illegal collection of personal online data in 2010, Street View was banned in Austria and investigated in a few other areas. As the younger generations adjust to digitization in the world that mines and monetizes data collection, Germany relaxes its guard about social media. From 2017, Austria also allowed Google to resume image-collection, and from 2018, it is available for selected localities.

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Photo credit: Filippo Peisino/Pexels

Younger Germans also started opening up to online data sharing and mapping. But, that doesn’t mean it is absolute. Close to half of the population now owns a Facebook account, but it is still impossible to survive a day in Germany without the anonymity of cash.

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