The German paradox, continued

The hard-on Germany has for Street View gets more ironic and amusing by the day. @larsan sent me a link to German newspaper story that points to all the others who open up even more data than Google. As best as I can translate, that includes:

* Deutsche Telekom’s online phone book let you search on someone and find an aerial view of the house from four angles and a view of the backyard — with, note well, personally identifiable information attached: name and phone number.

* The site Sightwalk has street-level tours of seven German cities, including parks. Knowing Germany, one could probably find naked people there.

* State governments not only take but sell detailed images of property, including monitoring for heat loss.

At the same time, the German government is rolling out mandatory ID cards with RFID tags embedded in them. ID cards sent Brits over the edge; they’d do the same here in the U.S, I’m sure.

But at least I’m starting to see some debate over Street View and privacy nuttiness; saner voices are, if not prevailing at least speaking. Mario Sixtus writes a wonderful column (in German) recounting the inane conversations he has with German friends about Street View. This column says the argument is typically German, that the fight against Street View has no real basis, and that this fight is bringing out the cultural divide between online and offline. This photographer is going to replace pixelated buildings in Street View with real pictures linked to the addresses (take that, fool!). This story points out that Street View has been around in other forms since 1948. And this column asks why Germany is irrational about Google.

That’s really the question: What is it that makes Germans go bonkers about Google? Is it media trying to gain an advantage against their competitor? Is is anti-Americanism? Is it some inner anti-capitalism? I’m serious. I can’t figure them out and I think they should sit down and try to figure themselves out. The Green Party of Germany invited me to come next month to talk about publicness and privacy and I can’t wait to hear their explanations.

In the meantime, the insanity continues. Church leaders are opposed to Street View, saying, “The world belongs to God, not Google.” Oy.

  • Eric Gauvin

    I’ve been asking myself the same thing, what is it that makes Jeff Jarvis go bonkers about Google?

    Perhaps the answer to your questions is similar to how you explain your book. You said it’s not literally about google. It’s about what google represents.

  • Otto

    Most of this data was available in some form anyway. I mean there were telephone books or photo atlases even before people had computers. Further, sites like sightwalk or the government-based mapping services weren’t really known before.

    What Google has done, is to bring this in the mainstream combined with an easy to use interface and therefore made it accessible. And in my opinion there’s one important point to make here about the automation of information. Nowadays you can access everything with a click of button and link that data with other sources without any problems. This is a huge difference to the past, the access barrier just was higher and therefore avoided (mis-)use. The people have to adapt to these new circumstances and they will – also the German, who seem to need a bit longer.

    Another issue might be the German Stasi trauma. Google as one entity has control over so much knowledge (97% share in Germany) and they start getting uncomfortable with that. You don’t need human snitchers anymore, the machines are far more effective.

    And besides that, it is (was) vacation time in German politics and the papers had nothing else to vomit about.

  • Otto

    I forgot to mention the RFID stuff. I don’t think that these chips fit into this discussion. All IDs have ID numbers, basically RFID just are modern barcodes and the state has all the information linked to those numbers anyway. They only can be tracked on a distance of some centimeters and probably not at all if they are in your pocket.

    • cm

      It depends on the RFID technology being used.

      Some can be read at a reasonable distance (10 metres or more).

      Some RFIDs are read/write and can be used to store extra info. Handy way to store personal stuff like emergency medical information etc.

      Any RFID would store more than just a unique ID. At a minimum it would likely store all the textual info that is on the face of the card so that this info can be machine read even if the links to the back-end databases are down.

  • Dear “Otto”:

    I very much doubt, that the retirees (and most politicians) who are presented on TV and in the papers, proclaiming The End of Privacy with righteous fear and anger in their wide-open eyes have the faintest idea about how to combine data bases and connect information. (They proved their total naivité on these issues in prior discussions, at least …) All they know -because tabloids told them – is, that pictures of their house is on the internetz, where – as everybody knows! – crooks and pornographers rule the virtual streets.

    All the “evil”, which is supposedly possible with these photos, already IS possible for quite some time, especially for state agencies, big business and every crook with a little money to spend. This does not matter to these people, because those, whom they trust, tell them that Streetview is bad. What is happening currently is part fear-mongering (always good for politicians and tabloids), part resistance to change of a national culture which is looking backwards and is suspicious and afraid of new technology in general..

    Privacy is a complicated concept – and certainly a relatively new one in human culture, which is interpreted differently in every sub-culture. What always strikes me most odd with the German interpretation (and the American interpretation which seems more “natural” to Jeff is NOT more rational ;-) is the trust Germans have in their government with privacy topics (aside from hiding sources of income from our IRS). The German government tries to introduce new surveillance tech every few months – and usually succeeds after explaining that it is for the common good, for fighting child pornographers or terrorists. The data gathered is kept from public eyes, is analyzed and co-related with other data without anyone outside these agencies knowing what is going on. If someone from the outside tries to get information about data gathering and usage, sometimes even laws are changed to avoid that.

    Yet, no one aside from some specialist privacy fighters ever complains, when this is happening.

    But, when a privately held company does just a part of this under the eyes of the public, people are afraid. It seems that the average German is more afraid of receiving better targeted advertising than being scrutinized by state authorities. :)

    That is one of the reasons, why I find it hard to believe that the current paranoia has anything to do with the “Stasi Trauma” – aside from the fact, that the VAST majority of Germans never had any kind of contact with the Stasi :) Stasi Trauma is one which is limited to East Germany. …

    On another but related topic: I am not THAT sure, that the new RFID equipped IDs can not be tracked from distances of more than a “few centimeters”. Thats a matter of technology basically. And technology advances. Germans are used to carry IDs, though. They don’t think much of it – aside from ever rising fees for new passports.

    Its completely different with US citizens. Roaming around freely without your government knowing about your whereabouts is part of the US culture. So US citizens react adversely to any kind of obligatory IDs. This is about as rational as the German attitude … just a different cultural heritage. :)

  • cm

    Sounds like Green-Party madness. Pick some large corporation, pick on anything it does and yell about it no matter how illogical the argument.

    The illogical debate around national IDs is really no different. People that complain about a national ID card that they can keep relatively private in their pocket (well OK, can be read by an RFID reader up close), will happily drive around in a car with uniquely identifying registration plates that can be read from a hundred yards or more.

    People are easily stirred up with threats of new technologies and new products even when they are safer and more secure than products and technologies that have been with us for years. We end up with crazy warnings on plastic bags, yet kitchen knives carry no warnings. Common household ingredients such as sugar and salt are more toxic than many of the pesticides that get banned.

    The Germans do not have a global monopoly on stupid people.

    • > Sounds like Green-Party madness

      Interestingly, it isn’t. Several politicians from the Green Party are moderately pro-Google and try to redirect the current hysteria to more appropriate aims. like net neutrality. See, e. g.

    • Sounds like Green-Party madness.

      Actually, not. The most vocal opponents of Google and Streetview are politicians from within the CDU, the major conservative party in Germany. The liberals FDP also like to bash Google, but mostly because they are in bed with the German press who singled out Google as their main opponent in their war against the internet as a threat to their revenues.

      While there is a group of nutty anti-technology folks in the Green party, they are usually on the saner side of Internet politics in Germany.

  • +1 to what markus said. and there is a lot of truth in otto’s statements as well.

    it does come down how technology is used and perceived. if you don’t grow up among a group of peers that embraces technology, doesn’t fear change and believes that society will advance through (sometimes radical) openess, you will have a hard time to grasp why services like street view might be a good thing.

    and note that german society is divided on these issues. yes, big media is playing a role here but certainly not everyone is buying into the argument that taking pictures of public streets and publishing them on the internet is by any means “invading privacy”. many germans really have no problem with that as long as they can keep their curtains closed.

    but many germans also find it strange that as open as american society seems from the outside, certain words like the f*word are banned from public broadcast in the U.S. and beeped away.

    not sure if beeping away the f*word and masking your house behind pixelated street views are really the same thing… but you really have to be deeply rooted in society to try to understand either. and even then it doesn’t always make sense.

  • >> and even then it doesn’t always make sense.
    Word! @heiko ;-)

  • I think the ‘arphid’ issue and the ‘StreetView’ issue are two very different cases.

    Yes, there is a fundamentally schizoid attitude to privacy here in Germany, as Jeff has often noted.

    But I think the current ‘StreetView’ hysteria is basically the result of tabloid editors’ needs for scare headlines during the summer silly season.

  • I so much wanted a tweet-this or flattr-button for this article like never before!

  • Arnd

    Jeff, I have two issues with this article:

    1. you’re playing stereotypes. Germans are just as diverse as any other nationality. The debate has just started and to me it’s quite unclear where it will lead. The discussion started late, but Google only recently started taking pictures in Germany.

    2. privacy is a wide field of very different topics. You can’t claim inconsistency because others don’t fit into your patterns. I believe these inconsistency can be found in any given culture. So to me claining if one accepts mandatory IDs, he has also to be fine with Streetview does not work.

    Btw. I think the rules available for publishing photos in magazines could apply for Streetview as well. But people have to think it through. Maybe the discussion will lead to a modification of the existing rules and that’s what the discussion is good for. I hope our politicians are smart enough not to create a lex Google.

  • Being one of your fans from Germany (currently reading the translatet issue of WWGD – and loving it) I would like to know when and where in Germany you will talk about publicness and privacy: maybe I have a chance to visit this discussion. If not, I would love to hear or read everything about it.

  • @Arnd

    you are not correct in claiming that “Google only recently started taking pictures in Germany”. it’s been going on for ~2 years. and there is plenty of public information available documenting this.

    and the rule to apply for publishing images of any public place in germany is governed by the principle of “Panoramafreiheit” – allowing anyone to take a picture of any building that can be viewed in a public place. and i surely hope that Panoramafreiheit will remain untouched. otherwise this would have huge implications for freedom of speech and freedom of press.

  • @Arnd
    Sorry, but I think it’s not a stereotype because – as far as I know – Germany is the sole western country in which a heated discussion like that takes place at all. And the arguments from the StreetView bashers are silly to say the least.

    The most ridiculous stuff that happened in this discussion so far was when several people protested in an article against Google StreetView. But what did they do? They let themselves be photographed in front of their houses while the article mentioned their real names. Protest Fail in epic dimensions. It cannot get any more ridiculous than this.

    By the way: I believe the discussion is that heated partly because some of the big media companies in German have a grudge against Google and its Google News service. So it’s only fair to bash everything else they do.

    • cm

      While it does seem ironic that someone advocating privacy would pose for a newspaper photo, the point is surely that posing was a choice, but ending up in StreetView was not.

      Having a right to something is not necessarily the same as exercising the right.

      But what is broken is claiming this right in the first place. Anything that can be reasonably viewed from a public place, as is StreetView, is no longer private.

      It would be more reasonable to attack Google Earth since that can snoop into your back yard and over screens, walls and other reasonable privacy measures.

  • Derio

    The Germans (like most people in the world) had to suffer from a lot of privacy violations in the past few years.
    But most of these things were virtual and therefore not visible (like telephone or e-mail control)
    Now street view is something that is visible.
    Everyone can see what google does.
    And therefore the people project their anger about these other things on street view (a lot of people ar argumenting like this: “Google schows a developement that has to be stopped, that privacy gets lost more and more)

    Another reason for the fear about street view is:
    The governement pushed it.
    The debate about street view beagan in automn of 2009 (at this time, the prolems with street view such as deleting people were already solved)
    That wa a week after the highest german court has decrared the so called “Voratsdatenspeicherung” illegal.
    The governement then said:
    “Ok, we established a system of total control and crossed the borderline between a democracy and a authoritarian society, but loook: Google is photographing your house!!!”

    And the people fell for it.

    The German caricaturist Bulo has explained this as follows:

    P.S. Sorry for my english

  • Monika

    Many Germans are control freaks (generally speaking) and Google scares them, because they can not control them.

    • A German

      As they like Apple, they are obviously controlling Steve Jobs. ;-)

      • Monika

        hell yes ;-)

  • Martin

    The BILDZeitung is responsible!

  • To me this looks like a typical example of the German Angst.
    Finally they can be afraid of something.

    It’s a completely irrational feeling, hence arguing about it with the people in question is pretty pointless.
    But that doesn’t mean they are right in any way.

  • Mister B

    Psychologically I’d say it is the fear of loss of control. Generally people want to have an illusion of choice and an illusion of control. That’s why democracy works that good, although you have nearly no possibilities to influence the great desicions.

    But Google is a giant non-democratic and profit-orientated company from far away…

  • Alex

    Your guess is quite right that the debate has been started by the German media. But not the general media – it was the “news paper” Bild which is dominating the yellow press here.

    Politicians have then taken it further when they identified the opportunity to gain reputation by pretending to have answers to the people’s scares.

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  • Christo

    What is a ‘hard on’ in your lingo? This is what it is in the Queen’s English:

    ‘hard-on n. (and as adj.). An erection of the penis. slang.
    1893 FARMER & HENLEY Slang III. 269/1 Hard-bit (or bit of hard). 1. The penis in erection. Ibid. 270/1 Hard-on adj. phr., prick-proud.
    . . 1971 B. THORNBERRY tr. Hansen & Jensen Little Red School-Bk. (ed. 2) 95 When boys get sexually excited, their prick goes stiff. This is called having an erection or ‘getting a hard on’.’ [OED]

  • Tom

    @ Markus
    While most of your arguments do make sense to me, I would like to add a slightly different angle: Cui bono? In who’s interest is this debate? Is it really the people on the street that are interested?

    I believe that the debate is fueled by a lot of half knowledge which usually creates some abstract fear. Most people on the street just don’t know a sh*t about how this “internetz” really works! And I’m sure most people just don’t care.

    I fear that most of the arguments are deliberately inflated by the media due to the holiday season and their very own interests. One has to bear in mind that Google is generally regarded as an enemy by German newspapers (and many journalists)! They see their advertising revenues evaporate and Google snatching up a fair amount of those. In their helplessness they even urge politics “to do something”, i.e. protect their monopolies from Google.

    I clearly see this whole street view discussion as an integral part of that pointless newspaper fight against Google.

  • I wrote a long article about why Germany struggles with 2.0 quite a while ago. There is something specific German about it and I think these phrases frame my thoughts quite well:

    ‘We believe in a strong state run by parties, social welfare, car manufacturers and a more or less fixed order in which everyone and everything has its special place. Sounds 16th century? Well sometimes it is. The German spirit seems stressed with the liberal intention behind Web 2.0. No one there to tell us how the world’s supposed to be. No institutions. Just us and our personal creativity. And this difference between our ideal and the world’s reality makes us rather slow. We’re unsure how to behave in this individualistic world anymore. A world in which no overall truth seems to be right anymore. And this is why we don’t move at all.’

  • NK

    I think a lot of that fear just comes from the media itself who are fighting against Google because unlike them, Google managed to make money online.

  • Udo

    What is it that makes Germans go bonkers about Google?

    First and foremost, it’s group-think. We really excel at that in Germany. Because the furore about Street View sounds “official” and supported by the public, everyone joins the outcry by default. Doesn’t matter if other websites do it, doesn’t matter if the same people regularly cheer at the other atrocious anti-privacy efforts made by our government and corporations.

    You can rest assured that the outrage isn’t about actual facts, it’s just about being angry at foreigners. Especially if those foreigners (google) also represent technological innovation and advancement. We really hate innovation over here, even more so if it comes from outsiders.

  • Is is anti-Americanism? –> NO
    Is it some inner anti-capitalism? –> NO
    Is it media trying to gain an advantage against their competitor? –> YESSS!

    • So what would be the difference to the American landscape then???

  • Dieter

    For some reasons Germans do trust their state and official institutions more, than any company.

    Although we don’t trust politicians at all, we trust in them to care for our lifes to a point where some Germans have already unlearnt to live autonomously.

    It’s odd. But it’s convenient. We don’t have to care. And if those who should care don’t care, we can blame them.

    After all, it’s better to trust a state for getting things done – that is regulated or forbidden – than to trust economics. In Germany people have not yet understood, that they vote, whenever they wave a bank note. Instead, Germans want somebody else to do the decision making for them.

    It’s exasperating…

  • Interesting debate. I don’t think that past satellite images should be considered as an act against privacy. It could have been if it were live. There is a great increase number of security cams all over the world. We should be talking about them instead of satellite stills.

  • I found that many citizens in Germany – as I experience every day – still don’t deal with their “privacy issues” the way they could, comparing their (or our) behavior to the US or other states.

    Supposedly, the question “How could you post THAT online?” comes up a bit more often in Germany, because there is some sort of “taboo” which nobody can really define.
    My guess would be that it’s a mixture of historical background (Stasi, e.g.), some sort of false nationalism (since they don’t really commit themselves to it due to the Third Reich, but also want it, but it generally turns out at a peak during football season and that’s about it) and conservative attitudes about what our language should be like.

    Many feel the English influence on German (and of course other languages) as a threat and link technical efforts such as Email or social networks to it, which then leads to the fact that they use it with more care. In Germany, German networks such as StudiVZ are far more popular and Facebook is just starting to get noticed, I would think. The most common answer you get when asking why somebody is not using Facebook would be “I don’t know anybody there”, referring to StudiVZ again.

    It’s probably not the same, but at least similar with Google. Most people use it, but don’t want to confess they use it (In university, the question “How did you find that source?” can kill you when answering with something containing the words “Wiki” or “Google”). There is no real understanding for the continuous flow or need for action if you’re not confident with the facts you find on there (After all, my profs could improve Wikipedia if they wanted to).

    Only a few people really see all those services as a chance for better communication or cooperation, or even for sharing. Sharing content equals stealing intellectual property, sharing pictures equals insulting my personal rights and sharing “too personal data” online is just suicide.

    Of course, you have to relativize that statement, but unfortunately I had to find out that it’s just too true in many instances

  • Jeff, it’s mostly hype. What we are experiencing is a proxy war.

    Thanks to the internet, the German publishing companies are experiencing a loss of control over their content and a loss revenue due to the change in advertising trends.

    They have singled out Google as their main opponent and consider them as a threat to their business model. German publishers now lobby the government for the “Leistungsschutzrecht” which is basically a tax on search engines (= Google) for being successful to be paid to publishers to remedy their business failure.

    Streetview is an opportunity to bash Google and make Google’s life in Germany more painful, and so the German publishers do it as hard as they can. This is not because Streetview is bad, it is only because it is easy to stir up emotion against Google. E.g. Springer, a powerful German publisher, is one of the loudest in this game through their tabloids and daily newspapers.

    Of course there are very legitimate reasons against Streetview by Google and similar services by others. And of course there are reasons to fear Google and similar companies aggregating private data about users. But thanks to the hyped media distortion, we cannot discuss these issues sanely over here, anymore.

    • Oh, and I’d like to add that some of our politicians love to chime in because it helps their cause.

      Now that the press has stirred up negative emotions against Google and this evil thing called the internet, the conservative CDU politicians add to the noise because their voters are generally against technological progress that involves loss-of-control and loss-of-power for the old rulers. “An American companies makes money with photos of your garden gnomes” is actually a powerful thing to say to sway this demographic.

      The “liberal” FDP politicians add to the noise because they are semi-corrupted by their involvement with publishers, although there is a vocal wing within the FDP annoyed by this anti-internet-bashing as well.

      As mentioned before, one might consider the Greens anti-technology, but they usually have fairly sane ideas about the internet, mostly because they like the loss-of-control for old gatekeepers and the power for democratic grassroots that comes with it.

      The Lefts dislike Google due to old anticapitalism and the Social Democrats in the SPD usually don’t know what to think about this whole thin and whenever they act, it’s often laughably inconsequential and destructive even when well meaning.

    • Tom

      Couldn’t agree more!!!

  • Bernd Moerken

    > rolling out mandatory ID cards

    We’ve had mandatory ID Cards or Passports like forever. You have to own one of those, not to carry it with you.
    However, If you leave / enter the country you have to have it on you. Though I have been to the Netherlands, accidently, only with my European driving license. One tends to forget about these things not having been checked by a border guard for more than a decade though crossing inner-european borders bi-weekly.

  • t_muc

    let me try to add a spark of enlightenment regarding this topic.

    first this isnt about google
    the german public has seen theire private information being collected and send through algorithms in attempts to harvest behavioural data leeding to many scandals over the last years.
    It is now start to begin to develop a consciusnes about the change
    that the informational age will truly have impact to the relations on
    human interaction in the 21st century and it is thus they want to have a debate about to determine the pro´s and con´s and to be able to setup institutionalized rules for government and corporations alike to determine a balance and
    safeguard human dignity.

    then this is about google
    streetview represented the german public with theyre first real chance to express theyre desire for thourough intelectual investigation regarding the future treatment and development of theyre right to privacy –
    originating from the german constitution –
    originating from the equality and quality of dignity –
    Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar
    The Right of every german citizen to determine pictures of her- or himself public or not is a strong safeguard of the real enforcement of oneselfs privacy. In this case google streetview just happens to have ignited a spark that allowed many who could not express theyre desire nor give rational of theyre feelings a flank to project exactly those desires. Special Interest Groups represented e.g.
    through Springer/Bild, AdvertisePrint, politians… used this “opportunity” to exaggerate themselves. Google may not take this easy! The acceptance of humans expressing theyre will to not take part in something many others do is on the very essence of democratic societys – the protection of minorities
    Google may be best adviced to not take the streetview issue as utterly important
    but just if they realise that there are societys that will not allow theyre freedom and dignity
    to be washed out by the slow streams of magnitudial change –
    but want them to grow with it.

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  • ZheeGermanz

    The simple fact is: I don’t want my house to be on Street View. I do not feel comfortable with pictures of my house on the internet. I perceive my house, even if it is only the exterior, as an extension of my private sphere, and I feel Google is invading that sphere. I don’t want people taking pictures of me and putting them on the internet, and I don’t want people taking pictures of my house and putting them on the internet – even less so if it is without my explicit consent. But it seems to be the initial assumption that I have no problems with Street View, that I either approve, or just don’t care. I feel that Street View is forced upon me, that I can only give my objections when they should be asking for my permission instead.

    • Well, I can walk by and take a picture and you’ll stop me? What if I take a picture of a government building? A picture of a government official doing something wrong in front of that building? It’s PUBLIC SPACE.

  • sp

    “Hard-on”, “amusing”, “saner”, “inane”, “insanity”. For someone asking a question, you hold a pretty obvious bias. Unless, gasp, it isn’t an honest question but a rhetorical one? But why would you emphasize you’re “serious” then?

    You call it a paradox and name a few other things Germans should be in arms about if they value privacy. I agree with both. I guess in your own country there’s some kind of magical law that if you didn’t complain about the first slap in the face, all successive ones are free?

    I accept someone can walk up to my front gate and look at my house. I accept they can take a photo for personal use. I accept they may show it to their friends. What I do not accept is that photo being published without good reason.

    • Oh, I have an opinion, a bias, a perspective, call it what you want. That couldn’t be more obvious. Except perhaps to you.

      • sp

        (Excellent work answering the only non-point in my comment. Next step: dismissal for spelling, redundancy, verbosity; or how about a snarky-haha “TL;DR”?)

        To repeat, there’s a difference between looking at my house and building a public database where everyone can anonymously look at my house. If there is a difference, then there is something to talk about. To ridicule people for doing just that isn’t contributing but stifling. It is plenty presumptuous and disrespectful as well.

        That other cases haven’t received the same kind of public scrutiny yet is irrelevant. A sufficient number of people seem to deem this one important enough to merit their attention. You’re basically saying, “Why are those silly Germans even discussing it when I’ve already made up my mind.”

        I’m pretty fed up with the lazy generalization that what a private individual can do must also be alright publicly. Walking about the city, I can look into the windows of many a private home. Does this mean it’s ok to install a webcam, broadcasting this “publicly accessible” view publicly? To be honest, I’m not sure about the principles, but it does feel kind of intrusive. Doesn’t it to you?

        Arguing that Street View or satellite images are fine because they’re only snapshots, you’ve already drawn an arbitrary line. I understand you feel as though no other distinctive lines can be drawn and yours is the right one, but it stays arbitrary and different peoples might agree on different lines, if they’re allowed to discuss it.

        I’d prefer you didn’t noise up their discussion with ridicule.

    • Andy Freeman

      > I accept someone can walk up to my front gate and look at my house. I accept they can take a photo for personal use. I accept they may show it to their friends.

      Do you “accept” if I pay someone to take a picture of your house? If not, why not?

      I ask because I’m paying Google….

  • Ryan

    Here’s hoping this will make it into a 30 Rock episode…

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  • Mark

    So someone from the US with a strong bias towards Google writes a piece on wondering why “the Germans” are against Google Streetview? Where countless other countries have already accepted their faith and allowed the company to shoot their gardens, their streets, their houses?


    Clearly, you ARE a strong supporter of Google, and you know very little about “the Germans”. I am one of them, and there see a big difference between “everyone can walk up to my house and snap a picture” and a huge company systematically photographing every publicly accessible square inch, and capturing WLAN data simultaneously. The big difference is: effort. IF someone came to my house to take a photo, he would have to spend hours, if not days (depending on location), to do so. It would be a costly enterprise for a quite uninteresting snapshot.

    However, now anyone can see my house (and the circumstances I am living in) at zero cost. Well almost zero. That is a big big difference. And the implications are manyfold.

    People over here:

    1) Are afraid of thieves that might use GSV to plan their actions. Easy, convenient, cheap, and not attracting any attention.

    2) Are afraid of potential employers making a standard background checks. If the house is looking bad, maybe they put your CV on the “rejected” pile?

    3) Are afraid of potential uberproducts (e.g. reverse image search) that will make them findable even if they published just a photo of their house with NO location information whatsoever. Or a list of interests next to the location? “People in this house have searched in the last hour for these phrases…”

    4) Do not see the value of Streetview. WHY would anyone I don’t know need to see my house on the Internet? Why? Why?

    5) KNOW that it is not good if any organization holds too much information about them. Yes, not everyone had contact with the Stasi, but the lessons are well learnt. Even more so when a private company does all this spying.

    Finally, if someone tries to take pictures of government buildings, he might get arrested (in the US, or in the UK). But when a Google spycar comes along, everything is OK? Gimme a break.

    So, Jeff, with all due respect, I think you have no idea what is happening in Germany and why.

    • No, Mark, there’s not a big difference. A big company — say, Holtzbrinck or Axel Springer or Deutsche Telekom — can take pictures of your building but you don’t want Google doing it? Just because you kinda don’t like them? That kind of serendipitous application of rules and laws is what got Germany in trouble before, mein Freund. Laws and protections are about consistency; good for one is good for all. If Google can’t take a picture then who’s to say that Bild’s reader-reporters — that is, citizens — can’t be forbidden?

      Amazing how you feel free to speak for all Germans and all their neurotic fears.

      I don’t speak as a fan of Google but as a supporter and protector of the public for the public’s sake. It is transparency, openness, sunshine that is the best defense against your nation’s nightmares of the past. It was secrecy that let them operate under dark.

      • t_muc

        in defence of mark

        dear jeff
        ranting about a subject of that importance you better get your history and political science straight
        the nazis came to power because all the others were fighting ideological wars and couldn´t find compromise and theirs was the
        most brutal one dissecting all the others – not that their actions wouldnt have been seen or felt in public
        the lehren aus weimar led to the introduction of the concept of wehrhafte demokratie
        guaranteeing the freiheitlich-demokratische grundordnung

        transparency is a very important issue but decreasing it to ideology and trying to sell it to a society
        that is well trained to deconstruct ideology will not bring you very far
        for you will collide with a wall of reason before you can yell penis

  • t_muc

    P.S. reading the previous words it looked a bit harsh to me
    which was not intended.
    I strongly approve your desire/choice to live in more publicness
    but i will not regard it as more or less important as the
    expressed desire of other human beings to live in more privacy

    the future must insure that humans through their free will
    can choose which way they want to live

    • I agree and simply want to inform the choice with the price and consequence of each option, including the benefits and generosity and transparency of publicness. j

  • Mark

    1) Where did I say that I try to represent ALL Germans? To be clear here: the list of fears represents just a sample of those who do not like the Streetview product in Germany.

    2) I personally think that the REAL danger of the product is not the product itself but the ability to LINK the data to other available data, e.g. from Google Search, Analytics, Adsense, or Doubleclick. There are only very few organizations that can do this. Google is one of them. I don’t trust them as they are quite secretive.

    3) YOU should know that journalism has their own laws, so why Google supporters ALWAYS mention fears of being unable to shoot photos for newspapers or the press? That’s an entirely different matter. These images are have a journalistic background and can not be compared to a systematic shooting of a whole country for display in a commercial database.

    4) If other companies, including German companies, are applying the same methods to Germany, e.g. roaming the streets with cars that photograph every Inch while also capturing WLAN data, then these companies should be investigated and if necessary banned as well. As I said above, I think that Google is more dangerous than others because they have the chance to link up a lot of data. That can be a very explosive mix.

    5) Finally, I found it extremely funny that you wrote that “it is transparency, openness, sunshine that is the best defense against your nation’s nightmares of the past. It was secrecy that let them operate under dark.” This discussion is about the most secret company in the world, Google. How transparent have they been when they started their photography? Have they dropped flyers with warnings (“on Monday, the 12th, we will come and shoot your house and capture your WLAN data, so please put up the curtains and switch off your WLAN”)? So, really, how transparent ARE THEY? Honestly?

    6) A supporter for the public for the public’s sake? What interest does THE PUBLIC have to see my home (or any home)? What interest do YOU have to see my home? If you want to see it, come over, spend a couple of days and big bucks to get here, then visit me and take your photo. You need to get on private grounds to do so, which can be a criminal offence over here.

    7) I’d be interested to see Streetview photos of Baghdad/Irak, Teheran/Iran, Kabul/Afghanistan, Cuba, Russia, North Korea. Try to snap government or military buildings there. Then -after the cars have been either shot down, demolished or confiscated- let’s talk again about openness and transparency and the right to photograph every inch of the planet. Different cultures, Jeff, have different opinions about what should be open and what not. PLEASE respect the fact that every country should make up their own decision of whether GSV is good for them or not.

  • Loki

    Uh. I generally agree with you, but you should reconsider what point you’re really making in 7).

  • Ghost in the Shell

    As long as Google only captures electro-magnetic signals from the public roads everything should be all right, right? Let’s just hope they don’t get a backscatter x-ray van.

    We all know very well that computers and other gadgets don’t get cheaper all the the time, so we don’t have to fear that Google will put cameras (4G Android devices) on top of taxicabs, UPS or FedEx vans for immediate updates instead of year old data.

  • t_muc

    to illustrate the million possibillities this discussion
    can evolve over the years…
    one might imagine a reality where there is a agency, perhaps its called transparency agency, with a strong guarded database
    where citizens would have determined their status,to perhaps high publicness, medium publicness or high privacy level.
    And a corporation wanting to collect, using, reusing or selling content of a to be defined private nature –
    would have to send a dataset of those concerned individuals to this transparency agency which in return
    sends immediate confirmation for all those within this dataset with high publicness status as well as this agency
    sends emails to those with an medium status if they wish to participate, which they could then express via a click.
    those with a high privacy status would be excluded and their data use would be prohibited protected by law
    enforced through layers of punishment
    every use of data would be of a direct benefit for those participating, in that commercial entities using their data would give them a little compensation with which those
    humans benefitting society through a high publicness level would be connected to the economic system
    the use of to be defined lesser protected private data would also require to be send to this agency for registration
    that way every citizen would have the right to check his or her record where there would be -like with a credit card bill- information about every purpose his or her data served over the year – including government use of data.
    humans with a high publicness could thus ensure that their contribution would not be exploited
    – just to throw something in the room

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  • Andy Freeman

    > YOU should know that journalism has their own laws, so why Google supporters ALWAYS mention fears of being unable to shoot photos for newspapers or the press?

    Where does journalism have its own laws? More to the point, why should journalism have its own laws?

    Note that Google can easily become a news organization …. (GE owns at least one news organization.)

    • trondh

      In Germany. Remember, the country we’re talking about? You’re also mixing up “journalism” and “news organization”. The exception would be that of course it’s ok to publish pictures of buildings as long as there is a concrete public interest, i.e. something happened there or the building itself is covered by journalism. Google becoming a news organization wouldn’t change this necessity.

      • Andy Freeman

        Suppose that a journalist decided to publish those pictures. Who decides that she’s wrong and on what basis?

        Suppose that one journalist decide to publish pictures of houses that were worth less than 200kEU and another decided to publish pictures of houses that were worth 200KEU or more. The first is telling about how poor people live while the latter is telling how rich people live. Both claim that their story is of concrete public interest. Which one is wrong?

        I note that overhead photographs in Greece have shown that there’s a huge difference between the number of folks who are paying the “pool tax” and the number of pools.

        “News organization” is shorthand for “organization that does journalism”.

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  • The question why Germans are so picky about privacy has historic reasons.

    To cut a long story short: The Nazi’s used private information on an individual’s religion to identify Jews. They then proceeded to kill (almost) all of them. Bad stuff.

    Later on the Stasi (in East Germany) spied on pretty much everyone and those they didn’t like ended up in prison or worse. Again, bad stuff.

    Since then, Germans tend to believe that when in particular the State has access to private information, it tends to abuse it. And the consequences can be very severe. So it is better to not let ANYBODY have any private information on you, because if somebody has it, the State will probably have it, too. And we don’t trust the State with that kind of data. Too many problems in the past.

    Pretty simple stuff, really.

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  • Tino

    It was a media hype that fueled the fear. However, the resonance, the using of data deletion is relatively low – as low as it would be in any other country with a similar media hype. German fear does not exist!

    On the other hand, the fear could be greater in societies with a lot of old (offline) people in relation. Not comparable with young dynamic countries like the USA.

    By the way, is the fear of terrorism bigger in Germany than in U.S. or Great Britain? I don´t think so! The opposite is the case: Anglo-Saxon fear, made by the media!

  • A German

    I´m living in a very small city. No one has ever come to make holidays here. So why do you want a picture of my house? Got to the google building and take a picture there. And you will see, they will not allow you that. We are Germans and you cowboys should just the fuck up. Yeah fuck, this is a word you don´t like to hear. We like beer, tits and like to say fuck. That´s freedom. And if you want to take a picture of a house, than go ahead. We still have Panzers to fuck up with your google shit cars.

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