Google Street View, the web-based photographic street mapping service, went online in Germany on Thursday, after months of public opposition over privacy concerns.
Internet users around the world can now peruse panoramic street shots of the nation’s 20 largest cities, including Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Munich.
Google’s European head, Philipp Schindler, said the company made greater concessions in Germany than in any other country where they have launched Street View, due to the vocal public outcry.
Before the launch, Google blurred images corresponding to 2,44,000 objections from people who didn’t want their properties to appear online, a procedure that was unique to Germany.
As a result, many of the panoramic street views are blotted by large blurred patches where an objection was filed by building occupants.
Politicians and data protection experts had been highly critical of Street View from the start. Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner led a campaign against Google over the privacy fears.
Street View generated additional anger when it emerged that the vans trawling the streets to photograph buildings were accidentally capturing unencrypted wireless (WLAN) internet data.
Unlike swift launches in other countries, Google said it took two years to start offering the service in Germany.
“The discussion with the French data protection authority took precisely one week,”Google’s data protection officer, Peter Fleischer, said by way of comparison.
Google said that ahead of the launch, just 3 per cent of affected German households objected to being included on Street View. In each case, the company said, the photos of the property in question have been blurred beyond recognition.
The United States internet giant said it had employed 200 additional staff to process the objections.
Complaints nevertheless surfaced on Thursday, as it emerged that some blurred properties were still visible from a greater distance or a different angle.
Individuals can continue to register their objections by post or via an online form on the Google website. Faces and car registration plates are automatically blurred.
Google said the extra effort was worthwhile to enter the German market.
“We know that Street View is an extremely useful product,” Schindler said.
The service has partnered with other companies, including Lufthansa, the online real-estate portal Immobilienscout 24 and the HRShotel booking service.
However, Schindler denied that Google’s motivation was purely financial.
“Earnings are not our key concern at all, at least not in the near future,”he said.
A trial version had gone online earlier this month, featuring the Bavarian town of Oberstaufen, an alpine resort of 7,200 inhabitants that hoped to benefit from the publicity generated by Street View.