One after another, countries in Europe halt Google’s Street View, which gives users a 360-degree view of a road via Google Maps, or else demand less invasive filming and cataloguing of their city streets. The latest country to slam the brakes on Google’s Street View cars is Greece; Greece’s data protection agency has stopped Google from expanding its Street View service in the country, pending “additional information” from the firm. Local ISP Kapou had their own mapping service suspended for the same reason.
Google publicly stated it has not seen the full details of the The Hellenic Data Protection Authority’s request, but has taken steps to protect people’s privacy.
“Google takes privacy very seriously, and that’s why we have put in place a number of features, including the blurring of faces and licence plates, to ensure that Street View will respect local norms when it launches in Greece,” the statement read. “We have already spoken with the Hellenic Data Protection Authority to ensure that they understand the importance we place on protecting user privacy. Street View has not been banned in Greece. We have received a request for further information and we are happy to continue discussing these issues with them. We will discuss with them whether it is appropriate for us to continue driving in the meantime. Although that dialogue is ongoing, we believe that launching in Greece will offer enormous benefits to both Greek users and the people elsewhere who are interested in taking a virtual tour of some of its many tourist attractions.”
Street View was launched in the US two years ago, and after much wrangling now covers nine countries, including the United Kingdom. Naturally, Google wants to expand the service to cover all of Europe, and has repeatedly countered privacy related objections by saying the service shows only imagery already visible from public thoroughfares.
Street View has still been criticized and accused of being an invasion of privacy, however, and while many of these charges have been dismissed (through the courts or by regional information commissioners), there have been multiple cases in which home-owners and shop-owners have directly blocked filming. In April, residents near Milton Keynes stopped the driver of a Google Street View car from photographing their homes, saying the service was “facilitating crime”. Even the Pentagon banned Google from filming near or inside its military bases, saying it posed a “potential threat” to security.
Simon Davies, director of the UK-based privacy watchdog Privacy International, said the Greeks’ decision would be precedent setting for other European nations.
“This is fantastic news. The Greek regulators understand the risks of future technology creep. They have watched what has happened in the US and UK very carefully and will be familiar with the arguments on both sides. This highlights the difference between regulators – some will allow the public space to be exploited, others acknowledge that people’s privacy needs to be protected. Now we wait for the domino effect, as the Greek decision sets an example that others may follow – we will see what happens next in Central Europe.”