Google says few Germans opted out of Street View

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Only a small percentage of Germans have so far opted out of Google Street View after the U.S. company doubled the period in which people could request to have their homes or apartments blurred.

Demonstrators drive a car decorated to represent the Google Car used to create street view maps during a demonstration for data privacy in Berlin, September 11, 2010. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

“We are about to launch Street View images in 20 large German cities,” Andreas Tuerk, Street View product manager in Germany said in a blog post on Thursday.

For Google Street View, panoramic street-level still photographs are taken from Google vehicles with cameras rising about three meters (10 feet) high.

Launched in 2007, and running in 25 countries, Street View allows users to see street scenes on Google Maps and take virtual “walks” on computers.

The number of households in those cities amounted to 8,458,084 according to the statistics offices, Google said, adding that it had received 244,237 requests or 2.89 percent of the households involved.

Since April 2009 every tenant and house owner has had the option to request in writing that their building would not be recognizable on Google Street View.

In mid-August Google added an online tool for users to transmit their requests.

“However, with these kind of processes it cannot be gauranteed that every request made will be fully dealt with,” Tuerk said.

“In some cases for example the addresses could not be clearly assigned because the specifications were not legible or the descriptions of buildings were not precise enough,” Tuerk added.

But once Google Street View starts by the end of the year people will still have the option to inform Google if they want their housefront made unrecognizable through a function on Street View.

Critics say the tool invites abuse. They argue thieves can search for targets, security firms could use the data for sales pitches, job seekers might find their homes scrutinized by employers, and banks could inspect the homes of loan applicants.

Google ran into trouble in Germany in May after authorities found out that Street View vehicles were collecting private data sent over unencrypted WiFi networks. Google called it a mistake.

Reporting by Nicola Leske