Germany, what have you done?

Street View is online in Germany and it includes — or rather, excludes — 244,000 addresses that Germans have demanded be pixelated. They have, in their word, demanded their Verpixelungsrecht.

It is more offensive than I had imagined, a desecration of the public demanded and abetted by German politicians and media on a supposed privacy frenzy.

See this building on Hugo-von-Königsegg-Straße in Oberstaufen, Germany.

Screen shot 2010-11-02 at 8.03.01 AM

Ugly, isn’t it? As someone in the audience said when I spoke on the topic at a meeting of the Green party in Berlin a few weeks ago, it is as if they are digitally bombing the German landscape.

Now you can drive to Oberstaufen and stand across the street — between the Edele bookstore and Dr. Fassnacht’s building — and look at the building all you want because you would be exercising your right to be in public. But not online, not in the land of Deutschnet, you can’t. Germany has now diminished the public. It has stolen from the public.

This is not a matter of privacy. And don’t tell me it has a damned thing to do with the Nazis and Stasi; that’s patently absurd. If anything, the Stasi would have exercised their Verpixelungsrecht to obscure their buildings from public view, taking advantage of the cloak of secrecy the idea provides. That’s the danger of this.

This is an issue of publicness. These are public visions now obscured. This is why I am writing a book about protecting the public, from assaults such as this. I can’t write it fast enough.

MORE: Here’s Der Spiegel (in German) under the headline: So Google pixelates the Republic. Don’t blame Google, folks, blame yourselves. It notes that the mayor of Oberstaufen, however, welcomed Street View. With a cake.

: UND AUF DEUTSCH: Zeit Online translated a version of this post — a message to Germany — into German, guaranteeing that the next time I visit Germany, I’ll get hit over the head with a mass of cameras. If you care, I’ve pasted the English original after the break.

What have you done, Germany?

You have digitally desecrated your cities. You have diminished and devalued your public space. You have thus robbed your own public. And you have set dangerous precedents for your future.

All that with a few pixels obscuring buildings on Google Street View.

In the mania over privacy among government and media in Germany, Google was pressured to pixelate not just people’s faces and cars’ license plates but also buildings. Suddenly buildings themselves gained a new Verpixelungsrecht.

Those buildings are fully visible and photographed from public streets. Anyone exercising Germany’s Panoramafreiheit may photograph them. But not Google, not if the owner requests pixelization, and 244,000 German buildings have.

I thought pixelating buildings was mostly just silly until I saw it. Now I am saddened and angered. Look at this scene from your own streets, from Hugo-von-Königsegg-Straße in Oberstaufen. You may drive there and stand across the street and take your own picture of the Edele bookstore and Dr. Fassnacht’s building to the right. You may see and photograph the building inbetween. But on Google Street View, this is what you see instead:

Screen shot 2010-11-02 at 8.03.01 AM

Ugly, isn’t it? Embarrassing, I’d say. When I spoke recently about privacy and publicness (Datenschutz und Öffentlichkeit) at an event organized by die Grünen in Berlin, someone from the audience asked whether with all this pixelization, Germany is digitally bombing its own buildings and visual history. At the time, I thought that was a bit strong. Not so much now.

Why is this happening?

I do not believe this is a matter of privacy. How is one’s privacy violated by taking a photo of a public view from a public street?

Neither do I believe this is a matter of Germany’s unique history. At the Grünen event and elsewhere when I’ve spoken about this topic in Germany, Germans have raised the Stasis and Nazis (I didn’t). Now that they’ve mentioned it, I find the argument illogical, even dangerous. If anything, the Stasi would have been the most eager to exercise their Verpixelungsrecht to obscure their buildings and actions from public view, taking advantage of the cloak of secrecy this idea provides. That is the dangerous precedent that is set here. If Google can be told that the public is not public, who else can be told this: Journalists? You?

So why the German mania? I hear some complain that Google is daring to make money for its effort mapping and photographing the streetscape. Well, German governments photograph the land and sell the data. T-Mobile’s not only lists names and phone numbers of citizens but shows images from above of their homes and backyards—from four angles. does what Google Street View does. Where is the protest against them? Is that Google is an American company? I hope not.

Is it that Google is a technology company? There lies another danger. If this is how the nation reacts when new technologies bring change, then the technologists may choose to work elsewhere. Germany’s privacy chief has already decreed, for example, that combining geo technology with facial recognition is taboo—before it is even used. What if such technology could be used to help find people after a disaster such as Katrina or the Haiti earthquake? How can one politician be so quick to decree how everyone should not use new technology?

Is this perhaps a trend without teeth, a fiction created by media who resent Google, and politicians who see an opportunity here to get attention? Considering that Google has a higher marketshare in Germany than in most any other country on earth, I think that’s possible. I’m not the only one who has been ridiculing the pixel bombs. Jens Best has promised to take pictures of the pixilated building and link to them from Street View. Ulrike Langer wrote on Twitter: “Seit heute machen wir uns in aller Welt lächerlich.” On Twitter, there’s a conversation underway under the hashtag, the label, #blurmany. But even if the Verpixelungsrecht is merely politicians’ and media’s folly, the danger and damage are the same.

I say this is an issue of publicness, of the value of the public and the public’s ownership of it. This is why I am writing a book to be called Public Parts in the U.S.—and das Deutsche Paradoxen in Germany—about protecting the public from assaults such as this. For publicness is our precious tool of democracy.

I write this as a friend of Germany. I urge you to consider the consequence, the precedent, the meaning of what you have done to your own digital world and the society we are building there, to your own Deutschnet.

  • Oh dear, how ridiculous this looks. And it’s irrevocable – at least for 4 or 5 years or however soon Google will renew the pictures. But I bet some of those pixelators will demand Google to come back, because this is not what they wanted…

    • Alex

      The pixelation was done after the pictures were taken. So, no need for the car to come back. Google should still have the original images.

      • Marty

        I’m afraid not. Part of the deal was to pixel the original images.

    • … sources in china reported that a sack of rice has fallen over. get over it. why not talk about real privacy issues like SWIFT?

  • Pingback: Google zeigt erste Street View-Bilder aus Deutschland « Googlereport – Google-Experte Lars Reppesgaard()

  • G R Stevens

    What’s wrong with people wanting their homes not to appear on a public website? Just because you believe everything should be public doesn’t mean the rest of the world should agree.
    IMO, people successfully taking a stand against a massive global company like Google is something to be welcomed, whether you think they should be forced to make their homes visible on StreetView or not.
    Also, what evidence do you have that all of the 244,000 individuals were coerced into objecting against StreetView by the German government?

    • Albert P.

      It’s “wrong” because the face of building belongs to public. The outside of a building is not a matter of privacy. Standing on a public street, looking around and taking and publishing pictures – all this is lawful (in Germany). Again: The outside of a building (as seen from a public street) is not a private thing, but simply public. And that’s why Verpixelung is wrong…

      • Hangog

        No, the face of the building belongs to the owner of the building. He can so with it, what he wants (well, not everything, since there are building codes to be obeyed). And you can not sue him, because he has planted a 5m hedge in front of his house to obscure it’s face, even if he thereby took the view from the public.
        An other example: You cannot go around, taking pictures of people and publishing them on the web WITHOUT their approval. Well, you can, but if they find out, you have to take them down. That is called “Recht am eigenen Bild” (probably “right to personal images”). Nobody may use or abuse your image without your approval. It is prohibited, although you can be watched in public by everybody without permission.

        You see, there is a difference between being able to watch with your own eyes and taking an image or video and publishing it online or in a newspaper. And Google is a company that is making money with this. They do not do it for the greater good, but for their own good. Just imagine an adult video company would use your picture (or a picture of your daughter) or of your home in one of their products, making it look like you approved of it’s use. Or some extremists do it with their videos. Oh, look, Osama is sitting in front of your house, but that’s OK right?

        I don’t know, why those people a opposed to Google Street View. I like it and do not fear any repercussion. But it is their opinion and therefore it is their right to do it. No company has the right to use private data to theie gain without my approval. I would even go for Opt-In instead of Opt-Out.
        People are stupid, that’s a fact. They believe BILD-Zeitung and other media that are painting pictures of hell and destruction. A lot of those people are not even using the internet or a computer. They are old and afraid of change and think, there will be a camera pointed at their houe 24/7. You could sent Google personnel to every one of them and try to set things right. Most likely 80% would allow it then. But even then the last 20% will oppose it and that is OK. You have the right to do this. You have also the right, not to accept the 20Mill$ lottery win. Just because you do something that is not considered wise, you can do it anyway.

        Remenber this, when your house is going to be knocked down, because of the greater good (e.g. building an Autobahn or a runway). Those things are possible against your will and that’s the only ones.


    • Absolutely right. Perhaps those 244,000 Germans were just using their brains. Doing something different today, even in minority, might just mean doing it already as everyome – or majority – might do in the future.

      Public architecture, landmarks, etc. are not pixelated, you can still enjoy the public beauty of Germany – or whatever you are seeking! Besides, if you find it ugly what you see on your computer just encourages you to come and see for yourself, Live. analog, with wind blowing in your face, Mr Jarvis.

      • dafe

        “Public” and “copyright-protected property” of an Inc. with 28 bill. $ of annual revenue and 30 bill.$ in cash and market domination is something of a difference, on top of that.
        Even *if* the image stock was really public property, there would be a conflict between privacy rights and a public interest which is “nice to have” but certainly far away from a vital interest.

        That mainly left-wing activists – for crying out loud – are arguing for interests of total public transparency and a partial commercial interest of a basically freeloading advertising giant is entirely beyond me.

        Must be a kind of atavistic superstition fad. “cool”, yes? McLuhan euphoria, medial extensions, yes? Try to read the message within and think over it.
        I’ve understood more than enough of the self entitled information age sub-gurus in the computer science faculties and their craze in hacking other people’s stuff without any sense that they’re just intruders. But, “cool”, yes.

  • kinibaai

    Fortunately Germany consists of more than these 244,000 people – these are only a tiny minority, afraid of some big thing they don’t know and don’t understand. You hear many things about the big bad internet these days….

    Don’t forget that there are others like Jens Best on who want to bring back the “lost” buildings to the public simply by uploading private and geo-referenced pictures of these buildings.

    • IstDochEgal

      Jens Best wil be dealt with.

  • Cannot wait for someone to create the list of ‘fuzzed’ houses so that enterprising persons can go and take a photo of the place and the Geotag in Google Earth the picture in its place :-)

    That is perfectly legal.

    • Jens Best

      Don’t worry, Ian, we are right about to program a site which will allow everybody to easily mark a “fuzzed” house.

      • Horst

        Dear Jens,

        and we are right about a program site to mark people who cannot accept peoples desire for privacy. So that everybody can throw the heads of dead dogs over your fence.

        Keep care

      • Andy Freeman

        > So that everybody can throw the heads of dead dogs over your fence.

        Thanks for reminding us that cowards are often cruel.

  • G R Stevens

    My issue with this is that, while my house might be visible from a public place, I’m not sure that that fact alone gives a profit-seeking company the right to copy that view of my house and reproduce it on a website that contributes to the overall revenue said company makes.

    I’d like to see more of a debate on this and less of the hyperbole about geek rights, Nazis and stasi.

    • Jens Best

      It’s not about the right to watch, photograph and publish public views of houses in Germany – this is the law since nearly 100 years – it’s called Panoramafreiheit – the freedom of the panorama. Funny, that it was create out of a jurisdical debate about the right to photograph when photography became popular in that time.

      profit-seeking or civil-society or just an ordinary citizen doesn’t really make a difference here. The discussion about privacy isn’t relevant here, we don’t talk about livingrooms or kitchens – we deal with the public space.

      What more comes clear with streetview is the fact that now everybody has to realize that the web became the digital layer of reality, that it is not another planet with lot of nerds, some ebay and amazon and lots of porn.

      Therefore fear and denial is the wrong way to treat the digital future responsible.

      • Thilo

        Please re-read the law.

        The exception of the so-called “Panoramafreiheit” is an exemption from this law. That means anything that falls under this law are excempted from that under the written conditions.

        But as ordinary houses do not fall under this law at all, there can be no expemption applied.

  • Just me

    I call it: “Sturm im Wasserglas!” – Who cares about pixelated homes? *This* is not one of our main concerns …

  • G R Stevens: “Just because you believe everything should be public doesn’t mean the rest of the world should agree.”

    That’s not the case here. The fact is, the obscured buildings are already public in the “real world”. You can’t decide for yourself whether something like this is public or not. It either is or it isn’t.

    • Precisely. Genau.

      • Wrong. – It is not about buildings being public but about private homes becoming a product. And I say “yes” to the decision of those who live there and would not like to become a product. And “no” Google Street View is not the next big thing we should be proud of. There are more important problems to solve.

      • Toronto

        Well… the Builduings do not become a product per se, it is rather the view itself which is the product. The view is, in the first place, independet from the content. It is clear that without good content, there will be no cake.
        But in my eyes there is exactly no difference between Google Earth, NASA, TeleAtlas and Google Street View. The planet, precisely the view on the planet, belongs to nobody and therefore can be used by anybody. This is what makes Street View to an absolutely unarguable legal product and it should be considered as exactly what it is (this makes countefeiting also impossible, because there is no “original”). You are not becoming a product by simple participation, this argumentation is pathetic.

        The “Panoramafreiheit” by the way describes the right, which was statet by the highest court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) in Germany, to photograph any publicly viewable object without concenrs about the copyrights of the object itself. This has no limits wether or not you doing it automaticly or with a profit-making background.
        In order to forbid Google Street View there would have to be a law wich adresses these problems – but why would we want such a law? It would ultimately fail to deliever any rights to the citizen. Why should this be disallowed while other websites/services/companys are making profit with this publicly accessable images? Where would be the border? What about satellite-photos and schematics? Would you disallow them as well, because you are becoming “a product”?
        Following this argumentation, you would inevidently be every single product you own. You would not represent only the conclusive customer-circle, but you would also be a represantion of the product-policy by itself?
        Not every user becomes part of the used product just by using/suporting it. In other terms: If I buy an iPhone and jailbreak it, I openly decide against Apples Product policy and therefore I’m not “representable”, yet I would posses an iPhone nevertheless.

  • Nowhere required

    The most ironic part of this is, that some of these “Pixelbombers” have posed in front oft their home WITH NAME for a photograph in a local newspaper which itself also appeared online.

  • Rainer Blödsinn

    The funny thing: it seems it’s really only Google that creates this nervousness. I haven’t seen the same excitement surrounding the site
    which provides the very same service for major cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Stuttgart or others.
    So to speak a negative instance of a “lex Google”.

    • Marcus

      Rainer, maybe because there is a difference if a multi-billion-dollar-business like Google is doing such thing, oposed to a site barely nowbody knows and have ever heard about it.

  • I don’t quite know what to think, frankly.
    I am German.
    I am very aware of the numerous ways that new business models undermine what we traditionally think of as our private business.
    I do take issue with the fact that Google is essentially applying the American notion of privacy to everybody, worldwide. Our traditional concept of privacy here in Germany has a much stronger focus on personal rights.
    I can’t explain what happened here, though.

    First of all: as a photographer, I am protected by what is called “panoramic freedom” when I’m shooting anything from public ground without having to go to unusual measures (like standing on a ladder to look over a fence or so). This freedom is bound by the personal rights of those I photograph, mainly by the right to one’s own image. So: if I photograph your house from across the street, I can use that picture. If you were looking out of the window and you’re clearly visible and recognizable, you get to say if I can use that image or no. So far, so good. That’s German Law. In the past, there were some court cases where celebrities won against the local yellow press when it came to pictures taken from public land looking onto private property with extreme long lenses etc. I quite understand that even celebs want their private spaces, no problem there either.

    This Google street view pixelation thing is very strange indeed. I’d love to talk to the people who demanded pixelation for their home, just to understand why they did.

    There is a amorphous fear of “what could be done with the data” and a general fear about what companies like Google are collecting. Quite frankly, neither Eric Schmidt nor Peter Fleischer made statements that could reassure the public that data collected would be used with the confidence and anonymity we are used to here.
    Quite to the contrary, Google makes a big secret of what actually goes on behind closed doors and what new services they might, in the future, be building on data that we give them today.

    Now, who are those 244000 people and why did they decide to do something?

    I would say that those are people who sit between the chairs. They know enough to feel that fear yet they don’t know enough to see the larger picture. A majority of Germans, I’d say, would fall in a “don’t know, don’t care” or a “don’t know but not worried enough to care” bucket. Few have thought this through.

    There is a certain fear that “something” could be done with the image of your house on line. I assume, there’s still some confusion of this with life imageing. I’ve actually red somewhere that a police spokesman publicly said he could imagine using something like Google Street View for “virtual patrolling” places. Errm… I’d say he wasn’t just unclear on the concept, he was obviously completely ignorant. But statements like that probably got people thinking that Street View might give foreigners information on whether they’re at home or not, inviting thieves in. Obviously nonsense.

    Also, as in most western country “something” is already being done with your home address and even the state and type of the buildings where you live: if you apply for a loan, your chances and indeed the interest rate will, among other factors, depend on where you live and what the ranking of that area is. Many people don’t know that because this rating process isn’t spoken about too much, it happens behind the doors of companies like Creditreform or Schufa. Street View, essentially, would make the raw data available to everybody, thus communalizing it and, possibly, at least allowing some transparency to the hidden use of such data that is going on today.

    Now, there’s a chance that those 244000 people become stigmatized as being non-conformers, maybe even outlaws, along the lines of “if you haven’t done something wrong, you have nothing to hide” or rather it’s ugly sister: “if you’re trying to hide something, you must have done something forbidden”. I strongly believe that this MUST NOT happen. Whatever the reasons are for demanding the pixelation, they may be good, uninformed or bad reasons, it is everybody’s right to decide if they want their data public or not. We must accept that in a free society, the right to demand freedom includes that we accept privacy.

    The highly respected Chaos Computer Club member Wau Holland coined a sentence many years ago: “protect private data, use public data”. That still stands today. And quite frankly, what we think is private is very much to everybody’s own discretion.

    I don’t think that the attention that Google Street View got in this case is justified, I personally don’t see the danger in publicising what is, in essence, public information today. But I don’t dare ridiculing the people who, for whatever reason, decided that they want to object.

    There are more important privacy issues in Germany today and it’s a matter of educating people to the point where they can decide if something is a potential threat to their privacy or not. If people act on such potential threats, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, provided they understand _why_ it’s a threat and what kind of threat it is. In this case, I believe the threat itself was being blown out of proportion by the media and, in fact, the politicians. At the same time, btw, we’re getting a new digital ID card where the same Chaos Computer Club sais it has some major security flaws and the same secretary of state that demanded to regulate services like Street View claims it’s perfectly safe.
    I wish we would act on that!

    kind regards


    • Toronto

      Just a heads up: If you photograph a house and there is somebody looking out of the window and you can clearly recogniz him, his personal rights to the usage of this photo becomes context-related.

      If you would go ahead and use this picture for, say, real-estate purposes where you would present the house to possible buyers, the person which is in this photos has nothing to say about it at all.
      On the other side, if you would go ahead and use this picture in the yellow-press (for example) stating that this is a celebrity cranking up his kitchen or whatever, the person would have immedieatly the right to pursue against this photo.

      The rating which often involves your living place is rather simple: Are there people with low ratings around you? If so, the rating-companies will conclude that this specific place is a habitation of low-rating-people, so you get a lower rating as well. It is of course more complex than that, because you have to wager the different ratings against each other to become a suitable rating for a person specified, but the mechanic is exactly the same.

      And: No, private data is not defined by the individual who might think this is/or is not private data. Private Data has to be a term which is defined by the law, describing exactly what information is private and to what point is remains as this. Because once you published your Phone Number on your Profil Page in Facebook it is no longer private data, because you just made it publicly available.
      This is the same case with the fassade of your house: It just cannot be defined as “private data” because the data itself is publicly available – made by you.

      • kg

        “Because once you published your Phone Number on your Profil Page in Facebook it is no longer private data, because you just made it publicly available.”


        Its still private data. Public availability does not define public data.

  • Germany seems to have a history of following the wrong people towards unwise goals because of dubious claims of endangering their way of life. Like every other country in the world.

  • oh, and btw, forgot to say:

    I wonder, how many of the people objecting to Street View actually participate in one or more customer loyalty programmes like Payback (very popular) and the likes.


  • I just wanted to let you know that we are not all fucking retards ;-)
    Yes, Im from Germany and I do like Street View as well as many other Google services.
    So why are the people over here so terrified by Street View?
    I think its mainly about two things:
    1. Our gouvernment is in a sort of crysis. They were voted in because they told us they would lower the taxes for the people. In the end, they lowered the taxes but for the industry instead. One of the two parties wouldnt even get into parliament right now (what Id quite qpreciate).
    But they try neithertheless to pull some laws concerning the privacy (ePass, Bodyscanners at Airports, Logging IPs etc.)
    and Street View is a welcomed point to divert the people to.
    2. Our traditional media hates the internet. Our traditional media doesnt know anything about the internet and Google is somehow the first thing you would noticw about it, so they fight google however they can. They fear, Google Books would prevent people from buying their literature on wood and Google News would do the somw with news on wood, so they lie about Street View: It would be in realt time, you could search for people in it and other obscure things I just cant remember at the moment.
    So some people are terrified and anxious about Stteet View but there are many like me, who love Google and the Internet and Street View.

  • G R Stevens

    Very interesting points of view. I would still like to hear what people think of this sense that a massive company such as Google is essentially making money from reproducing images of your home, street, town. Is this not unpalatable to anyone?

    • Thomas

      Well, you know theres a whole professional group dedicated to taking pictures of cities, landscapes and more. They’re called photographers. They take pictures, reproduce them and sell them.

      But uh, god forbid google does exactly the same and even offers you a completely free amazing service to it.

  • wow, nazis, stasi, bombing.
    i think you finally forgot to mention the sauerkraut …

    cheers from germany

    • Lieber Florian,
      I’m merely quoting what was said to me an event Die Grünen invited me to in Berlin.

      • Tex Lovera

        No, you did not “merely quote” it, you agreed with it.

        The people who requested that there homes be pixelated are probably reasonable people who may not be comfortable with their home appearing on Streetview. You disagree, putting public rights ahead of that. Fine.

        But there’s no need to demonize people with over-the-top rhetoric, then say you were “simply quoting” others…

      • Edgar


      • jansalterego

        What Tex said.

  • Oliver

    >It is more offensive than I had imagined, a desecration of the public demanded and abetted by German politicians and media on a supposed privacy frenzy.

    Sorry, but what you’re describing is just a mockery of the public. Your digital, database controlled public in the hands of some companies is just too much.

    >These are public visions now obscured.

    Just move your real body in front of those buildings, you can even take a picture without any problems. That’s the difference, some people don’t have a clue what privacy really means. Your digital public abuses the real public.

    >This is not a matter of privacy. And don’t tell me it has a damned thing to do with the Nazis and Stasi; that’s patently absurd.

    Please don’t tell anyone the USA has the slightest clue about privacy. And please stick to your own history and show the world what the USA didn’t learn from it. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, especially if there is no glass anymore.

    • Jens Best

      I smell a troll.

      “Your digital public abuses the real public.” ROTFL

      no arguments, but full of conspiracy theories which is clouding the mind.
      The fight against the power of money is not won by confrontation. You, especially guys like you, are more part of the system than you ever would like to imagine. I pity you.

  • Simon

    I’m from Germany and I love most of the Google products and Street View.

    I think it is ridicolous to pixel your house and I don’t understand the people who wanted their houses pixeled.


    It is not a human right to be able to view at every house in the world over the internet! Where’s the problem if you can’t see a view houses in germany? If I think my house should not appear at a commercial site like google, I should have the right to get it pixeled!

    • Jens Best

      There is no problem in not seeing a house online, but there is a problem when somebody tries to reduce the public space in which we have agreed on some rules.

      Taking photos, publish them, even earn money with it, is common law in Germany. And I think this is a big value. The federal association of journalists, several scientific instituitions agree on that – respect also means to except the freedoms we gave each other to do things that don’t harm each other.

      For example: If I don’t want to see people wearing red pullovers in public, why is there no law which forbids red pullovers? What kind of morality allows people wearing red pullover in public? Where is the preacher telling us that wearing red pullovers is whorshipping the satan? Where is the ministry of consumer protection and public aestetics which takes care of this ugliness? – you see: emotions not always the best advisor.

      • that’s right, the personal freedom of every single one of us tops your wish to not see red pullovers. There you go!
        In the same way, the personal freedom of every single one of us tops your wish to see their homes on street view.

        It’s not the fact that we have a right to decide what data we want to see published and/or collected about us. It’s also not a question of if you or Jeff Jarvis or indeed anybody wants to see it. If you had a wish to see what’s in my backpack, would that automatically make it so? See?

        The problem here is an altogether different one. It’s the question of _why_ we make certain decisions. If you are ashamed of the pitiful look of your house and therefore don’t want it photographed and shown to the world, is that a good reason? Maybe.

        I personally can’t really come up with a good reason to have my place pixelated, because if I worry about being found, I should start with my address, not with the image of what this address points to. In my case, imy address is embedded into every single picture I publicise and it’s right there in the clear on my blog. Care to look at the place in street view (once it’s online)? Be my guest! You won’t learn a whole lot about me.

        But maybe I just don’t get it. Who knows.

        I believe that people are drawing the wrong conclusions and shooting at the wrong target. I still wonder what percentage of street view naysayers own customer loyalty cards or use traceable payment methods when shopping. That’s where we should start controlling our digital persona.


      • Kritiker

        This rules come form a time where you were not able to easily drive to the location. SV removes the border of “efford” you have to take to go to the public spaces that you see.
        And with your action you violate the opinion of the people who don´t want their house in SV. and over the top you starting an online pillory adjudgeing people not have the same point of view you have.

      • Toronto

        But again: If 55% of people in Germany are saying that SV is okay, the conclusion is that the 45% have to swallow the bitter pill – there is no way around that.
        I clearly have a lot agains the current parliament and yet I can do nothing against it.
        Why should there be the possibility for 244k (~3% of the households which were photographed) people to decide against the other 97%? If youre deciding to argue on and for the public, you have to make sure that you get your facts straight.
        If this means I have to “violate” other opinions (I would rather say that we “oppose” and not “violate” – that is simply not possible with opinions) then I have to go ahead and do that, otherwise I could stay home from every election with the exact same argumentation. It really makes no sense – you have to draw a consense, wether you want it or not. And if you are part of the vast majority you just have to accept, that your opinions are obsolete and not shared by a lot of people.

      • @Toronto
        Rubbish. No one of those that disagreed took a chance of anybody else publishing their home’s faces on whatever site they want. They simply do not want their owns to be.

        And – I am getting tired of repeating this – “Panoramafreiheit” does not apply to cars with cameras stuck onto 3m-high bars. In my opinion, this carries the same consequences as for the guy passing by. Nobody cares if someone takes a look at your house walking around. But if someone brings along a ladder or a chair to climb on and have a glance on what I try to keep private with a wall, fence, hedge etc., I would most certainly ask him what the heck he is doing.

  • NoName

    I bet many of those people thought that this would be live pictures.

  • Helge Rebhan

    Why I am not surprised that a blog post from an american writer about Germany has to bring up some buzz words about Nazies and Stasi..? Do you really know so few about Europe and Germany that even a story about modern technology has to satisfy some US clichés on Europe?
    BTW: I totally agree with your opinion but I would also like to remind that its the US where the most Google Earth/Street View censorship takes place…

    • Lieber Helge,
      I bring it up because it has been brought up to me, by Germans, again and again so I’m answering them to save them the trouble of asking.

  • Eric Gauvin

    Hey Jeff,

    Can you please give us your address? I’d like to take a look at your house.

    • witzig

      Yes that is a good idea! Come on Jeff don’t be like that. Show yourself! (And your family) Are you scared?

      • I imagine Jeff’s house is visible on Street View. Go and have a look!

        What, you don’t know where he lives?

        Well, that’s precisely the point.

        • Street View comes to my corner; I’m a bit too out of the way. I was somewhat disappointed, actually. Made me feel two steps off the beaten path.

  • MTF


  • Hi Jeff,

    1. I think you got Spiegel wrong. The original title is “So verpixelt Google die Republik”. That means in english: “That’s how Google pixels the republic” not “So Google pixelates the Republic”. Spiegel just shows the pictures of pixelated houses. The rest is about a community that is very pro SV.

    2. Everybody: Get perspective. 244,000 households is not that much… so what?

  • Pixelation is annoying but in the specific case that you are citing, nothing was pixelated. I know the Hugo-von-Königsegg-Straße in Oberstaufen quite well and I can assure you that the building in question looks just as fuzzy in real life (some trans-dimensional quantum effect; they tried to explain it to me but my reality kept collapsing).

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  • Eric Gauvin

    Street view is amazing and I’m always blown away by the various map technologies available. But I find myself using bing’s bird’s eye view much more often to get a photographic view of a location. For example, this house isn’t even on street view, and even if it were, it would not be possible to see the house from the street.

    Wouldn’t the pixelated houses be on bing’s bird’s eye view?

    Wouldn’t the pixelated houses also on bing’s bird’s eye view?

  • Zok

    Google is a profit oriented company, their services are truly great and useful, but not motivated by altruism. Fair enough, I’m not complaining, don’t get me worng.
    Only it’s a difference to e.g. a public service which is motivated by a need itself, and not serving as another tool in a huge advertising machine.

    I never mind street view, actually. But I think that some arguments oversee Google’s motivation and by this only focus on “c’mon, its not evil, don’t be a grinch” (and thinking “how retarded is that?”)

    The Nazi/Stasi argument is silly, if someone uses it.
    But there are open questions. E.g. agreeing to Googles Terms&Agreements one agrees also for future changes to the T&A, so anything is possible. Google is not evil, so we are fine with it. Usually.

    Street view only opens a general point about data privacy in general: Who will be able to access and act on which data (correlations) AND for which purpose, now AND in the future? And how controlling this in order to avoid abuse?

    I don’t have the answer. But I believe it is naive or careless not to think about this.

    • What’s wrong with profit. Do you want the DDR to return? I don’t understand this argument. Every newspaper in Germany is made for profit. So what?

      • DerAlteJenkins

        Exactly, and thats why a newspaper cant use a photo of my privat property or me without asking permission, paying me or getting sued for it.

      • Toronto

        And this is exactly where you are wrong: Every single newspaper in Germany has the right to photograph your private property without asking permission.
        It is even legal to photograph your car, if you pixelate the license, to photograph your bike, to photograph every single piece you own, once you can view it in public.

        Using a photograph of you yourself is a whole other story though.

      • Toronto

        Addition: Imagine what it would mean for the freedom of speech if you could sue a newspaper for a photo of a building for example. Nearly every single photo which is used and postet in a newspaper has a building in the background, foreground or whatever, even though there is no relation between the motive and the building you would then have the chance to sue against every photo.

      • Josch

        Thanks Jeff, that’s the exact argument I was looking for the last two days! People talking to me and saying “yeah, but it’s a private actor looking for profit not a registered association (e.V.) or something similar. I was thinking “there has to be an argument!” there it is!
        josch (from munich, germany)

      • DerAlteJenkins

        Somewhat…but. We over here call it “Persönlichkeitsrecht” and its a little bit different from your freedom of speech. You can say what you want UNLESS you dont hurt, offend or just piss off people your talking about/to. (keeping it short and simple). You can get sued for flipping the bird over here you know. Then there is the “Panaoramafreiheit” which gets beat by the former mentioned law. And this is what makes this whole thing tricky. It is your right to object to something like “taking a photo of your bike” but its also the right of the photographer to take it. If you go to court with that, the court will balance between public interest (which most of the time isnt there) and your persönlichkeistrecht. If some newspaper takes a photo of my car and puts it into false context and there is no public interes in my person i can definitley sue em. Cause we also distinguish between private and commercial use. You can take a picture of me or anythin of my property for private use(urgh) but before you put it up on your commercial website you should talk to your lawyer firts. It is fairly a lot more complicated than that because german law isnt as exactly formulated as american law and to be honest i haven´t been into the topic lately (cause i dont generally object to street view). It is paradox and stupid but it is what it is.
        So to sum this all up: Your right, but so am i. The Judge has to decide. ; )
        Addition: Thats where panaromafreiheit and public interest (or the lack of it) prevails.

        • Very helpful, thanks.

        • By the way – very good system if I can see a comment like “Very helpful, thanks” from November 3 after some comments from November 5. It looks a little bit sarcy and not serious…

      • zok

        guess why I wrote that this is fair enough and nothing’s wrong with it. Please take your time to read the conclusion and especially note the difference to a real public service.

        It’s a bad attitude to counter what someone has explicitly NOT said.

      • Toronto

        Nah, that is simply not right. You do not have a “Persönlichkeitsrecht” per se, rather than a bunch of rights which are conductional rights which are extracted from the “Grundgesetz” (=constitution) of Germany.
        The highest court, The Bundesverfassungsgericht, decided that you have indeed a right to a photo of YOURSELF, but this photo ultimately has to include you as a person. There is no “Persönlichkeitsrecht” for any object you know – the single one which involves an object is the “Privatssphäre”, but this is only for the INSIDE of your building – not for the outside.

      • dafe

        Profit in consent with those concerned, right? Papers are covering public space as a side effect and to a tiny fraction.

        But you in the US are obviously used to the fact that public space is free to any kind of “sell-off”.
        Ever tried to find an accessible hiking trail in the mountains of L.A.?

        I want to be asked *before* the fact. Everything else is plain perversion of obligations.

        • A view is a noncompetitive asset: it is not diminished in picturing it. But it is diminished if you are not allowed to picture it. You’ve taken a nomcompetitive asset and regulated it and reduced its value.

        • dave bowers

          Jeff you are contradictiting your old points about movingfrom a scarcity market to one where evertuthing is free to access. Not allowing something to be pictured makes a picture of it more valuable, not less.

          Tell mapquest that a view is a non competitive asset.

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  • ro

    “Germany has now diminished the public. It has stolen from the public.”

    I’m confused. I thought that individuals had opted out of Street View. This makes it sound as if the German government had held some sort of lottery that determined whether one’s house got pixelated or not.

    Oh, try this experiment next time you are downtown in a big city here in the US. Get your camera out and take pictures of office buildings and their perimeter. Wait just a few minutes until security comes out and asks you to leave because of security, privacy or 9/11 reasons.

    That in my eyes is a desecration of the public.

  • Roberto

    Very curious, how cases of joint ownership or ownership changes are handled.

    I live in Germany and I have to excuse myself for all the people that opted out of Google Street view.

    Most of these people did not opt out for privacy reasons but for trying to be prvileged in some way: Just because Google offered them an extra status they took it. Thats typical for some german middle-class specimen. Luckily they do not represent a huge group – but a lot of these people are voted into german parliament ;-)

    Imagine this: Quite a lot of people that opted out of Street View had no problem in being photographed and having their full names, faces and their house printed in national newspaper. how bizarre is that?

    • esrah

      Concerning joint ownership: As far as I know (please correct me if I’m wrong!), it doesn’t matter how many people live in one house, it suffices if only one person wants the house to be pixelated, it will be done.

      For an ironic attempt to (re)claim your right for a clear image see:

    • I don’t have a problem having my photo and full name in a national newspaper, if (and that’s a big if) I give my consent.

      What would you do: a bar owner took a photo of you while you’re out in his(or her) bar and put that photo up on his website. His argument: Well, I know this guy doesn’t mind his house being visible on SV + he’s been in the public. Wy doesn’t he stay in, if he doesn’t want his picture taken?

  • “but the buildings are already in public”.

    Well. Yes, they are. That is true. But that’s not the same as taking a picture of someones house and putting it online without asking their permission. Not even close.

    To see the house in this article’s image I would have to fly to Germany. I would then have to drive to this house, get out of my car directly outside it and stare at it. There I could be seen doing so by the people inside, the general public and any passing police officers. The people in the house could also take a picture of me, should they be concerned as why a stranger was staring at them. They could report me to the police with any concerns. If it’s a popular road there could be multiple people starring at the house. The house owner may be looking at a crowd looking into their front window.

    If you want everything public then the IP’s, google /facebook / twitter accounts of every person who has looked at your house should be posted online, showing the picture of the user, how many times they’d visited and for how long. How would people like that? Take away the mask of secrecy and see how many people want to use and protect it then.

    If you’re going to defend openness you shouldn’t restrict your thoughts to one point of view.

    • Hesl


    • Toronto

      Or, instead of flying over there, you just could hire anyone in Germany to take that photo for you – which would be much cheaper and with less stress attached.

      Instead of a crowd standing in the front of your house, this picture could be postet in a private forum for other people with access.

      There is no way to determine who looked at your house and who didn’t – even in the “real world”.

      • Yes, and there would be records of my hiring someone to do this for me. The forum would also keep track of usernames, IPs, e-mails and passwords etc..

      • Toronto

        Nap – wrong again: There is no obligation for keeping track of your forum-users.
        What if i postet that picture on a private homepage? There probably would be no way to track the user down.

        And if you would hire someone who took that photo and send it to you – how do you know how many and whom exactly see the photo before/afterwards? What about those people coming over to your house, when you are asleep, away, whatever?

        But, I read your argument again, what is the point of your view in its entirely? If you stand in front of a house, even a whole day, just looking at it – any officer or civilian whos walking by, just keeps walking – the won’t even notice it.
        And if you call the police on that “stranger in the road looking at my house” there is a high chance that you will be laughed at.
        And if you go so far of taking a picture of that person, you couldn’t publish it anywhere (or you might get sued for it).

        There is still absolutely no fucking way to determine for sure who was standing in the front of your house.

  • Also, people, please don’t say that taking a few pictures of public buildings with my dslr is the same as strapping a load of cameras to a car and driving down every road in town.

    • Toronto

      But it is, the only difference: With a car with attached cameras it becomes automatic.

      Where is the difference for you? The commercial background? Others have done that before, they printed images of a house on a postcard – that wasn’t illegal either.

      • 1. Did I say it was illegal? It’s not. But everyone should have the write to choose not to be public and not be criticized for it.

        2. There is a difference between someone walking down a street taking pictures of every house than a car that does it in seconds. I can go and ask the person walking wtf they’re doing. I can’t do that to a car that’s already gone.

      • Toronto

        1. Yeah – but you strongly implied that. First of all: Not everyone has this right you are speaking of. If you are popular (and you did everything you could to become that) and you are a person whos standing in the civil focus, you do not have the right to “choose” wether your in public or not.
        Second of all: Your house is not you, thus you are not standing in public.
        Last, but not least: If you are living with an opinion, then you have to live with the fact, that you always will be critizied for it – no matter what. This does not allow anyone to talk shit about you, but surely everyone can comment on that opinion, if you decide to make it public. This is the whole sense behind Freedom of Speech.

        2. Yeah, and that person could just say “Piss off” – what would you do then? He has every right to take that photos… What are you doing when a group of people in a bus comes by and takes photos? What are doing in this general case? Would you prohibit any photos taken of anything to “On-Foot-Fotos”?

      • You’re missing the whole point. The issue is that people on the internet wanting to stare at someones house have their identity protected. The people living in the house being stared at are criticized for wanting the same protection.

        It’s double standards.

      • Toronto

        Obviously you are missing the whole point: In what way do you know anything about the citizen inside the specified house?

        Your identity is still protected, nobody knows anything from you just by looking at the pciture.
        And then again: Those peeps always could just go inside your street and hide, or better yet: They come when you’re sleeping. You wouldn’t notice anything…

      • You’re ignoring my point and bringing up a completely different argument. It doesn’t matter what they can or can not tell about me from the outside of my house (although someone scanning for car tires to steal would be able to see that my car fits their requirements – and yes, I had my car tires stolen, so your point about ‘nobody knows anything about you’ is just false).

        The point is about privacy and rights. Why should someone on the internet have more privacy rights than the person not on the internet? Please answer that.

      • Toronto

        The point is: He does not have more privacy than you have.
        Why, no, how should he? He does not know anything about your identity by looking at the picture.
        The thing with the car does not belong to your identity per definition (even thoug you might identifiy yourself with your car).

        The “Watcher” has no way of accessing your “identity” just by looking at your house…
        You should look up your definition for privacy: What does it stand for in your eyes? Privacy is the possibility to have a own life without that you have to tell anyone what you just did, plan to do, or have done in the past. That is still the case if somebody can look at your picture. How does your privacy get violated and how does a “person on the internet” have more privacy then you do? Because you don’t know what he/she looks like or what their houses look like? That is hardly privacy…

  • I believe most people who opted for having their homes pixelated were simply misguided on what Street View really is. Lots of people I spoke to or listened to in interviews think that the pics on Street View are live images, a constant, real time video stream, surveillance cameras for everyone to see on the web.

    We know that’s not true, but that’s what some media over here in Germany made the public believe (no-one actually wrote that, I think, but way too few made it clear enough that Street View is – for most homes – a one-time landscape snapshot with updates for only the major sights every few years, if at all).

    Since picture mapping was done in Germany long before Google (not on that scale, though) and didn’t cause a storm of protest way back then, I believe that some media jumped on the Google-bashing bandwagon because they, the media, have other battles to fight with Google. They saw Street View as a welcome way of injecting fear of Google into the German public.

    This is bad because indeed there still are issues to talk about regarding the use of personal data by companies like Google and Apple, but the necessary discussion needs to be lead on another level than one of fear and anxiety.

  • Datham Hain

    I live in one of the houses that will only be available pixelated/blurred once the major cities are online. Me personally, i like streetview and couldn’t care less about my house being available online. But i am not the sole heir and was overruled by the other two heirs to the building whose argument i just want to make public here: invitation to burglary.

    As Dave said above you would have to stand in front of our house to take a picture where you _would be_ noticed by neighbors, being a wealthy neighborhood where this happens every now and then.

    And just to answer a question that arose here: none of us three uses any sort of traceable payment method, customer card or posts their real name/address online.

    • Datham Hain

      oh and just to clarify: the other two did NOT think that the images are live streams, but the absence of visible intrusion security in a neighborhood where every second building has either an overtly visible alarm system or cameras counts as “invitation” for them

      • So you say that the visibility of the absence of surveillance on your house (while other houses in the neighbourhood have alarms etc.) made the other guys think that burglars will notice and break into their house?

        Since it is unlikely that burglars from Hamburg plan a break-in Munich, I would think that burglars, who need to go there for the break-in anyway, would rather check out the house personally since there’s alarm systems that you cannot immediately see on a picture. So they’d never know from Street View if they have any sense. Also, I cannot find any proof that the burglary rate went up in cities that already had Street View for a longer time.

        But I understand that you are merely passing on the arguments of the other two people, and I find that very interesting. I didn’t know about those detailled fears and though I don’t want to downplay them, I still find them pretty exaggerated. If one lives in such fears, one should probably not leave the house at all.

      • blubber

        Maybe a “blured” house is an invitation?

  • Thom

    This is the most bullshit article to think of: as if one needed a right not to have his home exposed to millions; as if there was a right to voyeurism; as if it was an argument to denonce ugliless of a pic to force people into exposure. Shortly: absurd is not what people do but this article.
    But okay, if you live somewhere in the mid west or in any other american shithole, it might appeal to you to see anything less ugly than your home. And if this is denied, drop some missiles, I guess.

  • Michael

    As a historian, in a hundred years time the relatives and local historians of Germany will curse the pixels.

    • Doyle

      They won’t ;-) They’re used to work with leftovers…

      I think there are two things not mentiones yet.
      First, it makes a different to a lot of people who takes the photograph. If you really take trouble, come here and pull out your camera, noone will interrupt you. But SV is not a tourist, they want to make money. So some people feel or see a difference. No matter what the law may look like.

      Second – a marketing point of view – you will meet a lot of people who feel unsettled with the business behaviour of US american companies. They come over the ocean and want to trade as they are used to, overrunning habits and traditions. And that simply doesn’t work. Not in France, not in Belgium, not in Switzerland, not in Germany or Greece. All those countries are different and companies trying to get along here should consider.

      If SV is conform to the law (which I can’t judge) than probably the company itself made a huge marketing mistake, there might be a hole in the information flow … etc. I can only advise to consider national characteristics and give more information about the project. Lots of companies have comprehended and name or colour products differently, use different marketing strategies and so on.
      Better information is the only way to make clear what SV is about and what technique is able to do and what is done to make it reliable. Currently opponents simply do the better job.

  • Ann

    It’s ridiculous, when the whole protest started, I even saw an article in a newspaper, two elderly couples who fought against Street View. The article was adorned by a photo of the four of them in front of their houses, their names in the subline. Please?
    A shame what bigoted people like them did to our country.

  • Dubu

    As mentioned by others before, many, many people in Germany think that Google would (using some mysterious invisible remnant of the passing Street View camera cars) provide live imagery of their properties. The German “BILD” tabloid, which arguably led the hype against Google Street View, had some interesting quotes of people objecting – and agreeing with – the Street View project. The German watchblog gathered some of those quotes here: There you can read that people do not want to be spied on when tanning on their terrace or do not want their children being watched playing in the garden. And others, on the pro side, want to use Street View to check if their houses are okay, when abroad!
    The “BILD” newspaper even published an FAQ clarifying some of those myths ( some days later, but I don’t think you can that easily remove the uneasy feeling people already had.

  • Jeff, I do believe that the huge outrage in Germany came strictly from the fact that for the first time ever normal people got a glimpse of understanding what this connected world means and it scares the crap out of them. A little bit like sun darkness in middle ages. While at the same time much bigger and more nasty things happen, like the same people scared about google streetview will happily use payback (a system giving you points for your purchases aka collecting your data and using them) because it is too abstract for them to understand.

    But streetview is more tangible. And suddenly it clicked though many are ill informed; as people said “I do not want to be on camera 24/7!!!” because they thought it was video surveillance.

    In a way, the child has lost its innocence. Facebook is getting the backslash of it as people do scare away from it as well or are very sensitive to private data but again: they are rather scared that people will be able to watch them through their windows on streetview than they do understand what is happening on other websites with their data.

    • good thoughts, and in that light, maybe what is currently happening is actually a good thing: it starts a public discussion that we, the people who live with the internet and think about it’s issues and opportunites, have had for years: what’s my digital footprint? How much “me” do I put out there and what do I get in return?

      Those 244000 may be barking up the wrong tree for all that we know, but at least they’re not asleep anymore. There are real privacy issues the public needs to be educated about. Streetview is not one of the more important ones.


  • Josephus

    Don’t tell anybody, but we just use the SV pixellation feature to upset a certain group of demogogic left-wing spokespeople :)

    Works like a charm

  • Gerald

    “Germany, what have you done?”

    “Germany” did nothing! Some people IN Germany asked Goolge to not publish pictures of their houses and Google complied (trying to be nice in wake of the wifi-scanning mess).

    This is not a matter of Germany vs. Google, there is no law or government action involved (other than politicians stating their opinions and/or playing the media-game with this).

  • Hi, I am German, I like Streetview and I think Nicole just made a good point and there are several facts coming together:

    First of all people are scared, uninformed and they don’t know where all the digital publicness is leading them. I had to take down some articles off my blog because a person that THOUGHT she COULD be recognized by people in the REAL world. Even I did not use a name or a picture. There were a lot of shoulds, coulds and mightbes in it, but I had somehow had to respect it.
    But it showed me how scared some people are still in a really small scale.

    Secondly I think we Germans just like to be against something. Especially when we see us in the position of good vs. evil. When we seem to be the only Goliath against the other Goliath. Just to make a point.

    What I find _really_ intereseting is a point Nico Lumma broght up in his rant about the topics here:

    Jeff, I am not sure if something like those Scoring-Companies exist in the US as well. In Germany there are Services who give Scores. Not only to individuals but also to several areas, blocks, streets in cities.
    Online-Shops or Insurance-Companies for example can decide on the basis of those scores if they want to do business – not particular with YOU, but with persons from those regions in general.

    So: If you are living in an area, which are not scored that good by those companies, it can happen that you order something in an onlineshop and you are told, that they will not deliver to you. Not because of YOU did something wrong but because of you are living in the rong area.

    I never heard anybody protesting against those practices.

    @Jens Best:
    GREAT idea with I really would like to contribute some pics of my hometown to the project. But – as Bielefeld doesn’t exist… You know the joke with the long beard :) No seriously – I will see what we can do about it in Bielefeld.

  • G R Stevens

    So a newspaper and Google can legally take a photo of my house, but not of me. That means that if I don’t want my house to appear on Street View (because I simply don’t want it on there and couldn’t give two hoots about the wider debate about privacy versus public) I should just erect a life-size photo of me next to my front door to prevent publication….?

  • Is see other problems which will lead ending at court. For example someone with a restaurant owns a buliding and lets someone else rent a small flat above the restaurant. This guy demands the verpixelung. You have no right as the owner of the building against it so far. so if mashups come on market, that give you the chance to rate and find your restaurant through streetview it is a clear marketing disadvantage. Same if you like to sell it and so on. Not sure every owner will swallow that.

  • Ah – one last thought:

    When I buy a house from somebody who pixelated it – can I remove the pixelation?

    and vice versa:
    when somebody buys a house, which he does not want to be appear anymore, does google has to pixelate it later? or are people going to base their buying decisions for houses now on streetview?

    so many questions… :)

    • Right. Does the buildling have the right? Or each tenant? The developing law of the Verpixelungsrecht.

      • Stefan

        Yeah! After 80 per cent of the global content on taxation is written in German here comes the next German domain: laws and regulations on pictures of the public space. Providing work for thousands of “Pixelation Experts” resulting in another flood of court appeals etc. etc.

        Can’t await your book, Jeff.

  • My wife is against beeing seen in Google Street View. The house and the garden does not matter. You may even see my old Mercedes, which isn’t locked most of the time anyway.

    The problem is being photographed in a private situation. With a body more on the comfortable side, you don’t like to be shot after two hours of garden work in the sun, with sweaty hair and old clothes. Or hanging around with a beer and just a bra after the meal before doing another run with the lawn mower. This is the risk you have with cameras looking over the fence.

    • But persons ar ein germany always pixelated. I don´t see the problem.

      • Unfortunately this is only true for the head. The body is not always pixelated. And the person leaning over to cut the roses with the fine “Maueredekollte” (The part of the bum not covered by the shorts when leaning over) is easily identified as the owner.

        It’s a fear. It’s not very real. I would just ask google to pixelate my ass, but women are women.

  • whoops – a third (and hopefully last thougt):

    Can I make google pixelate my RENTED house? Or is this decision up to the OWNER of the house.

    The one who rented a house maybe doe not want it to appear on SV – but for the owner it might be good when he wants to sell it.

    Is there any decision about that question?

    • See my post. Its not the decision of the owner, even if he lives in the house as well. So i see major right problems coming up here, as noted above.

    • hollister

      I have just sent my claim to get my house pixelated. As there no laws (yet) regarding this, it’s up to Google to make the rules.

      – Only the owner of a house can make the claim.
      – For verification you will get a snail mail letter that contains an activation code.

      I am a regular user of the Internet. I have several email addresses for various purposes, make extensive use of Google services (Mail, Sites, AppEngine). Why not, they are free and powerful.

      But you can bet I never use them without having TOR active, nor would I ever sent a real private message using GMail.

      Google might not be evil yet, but its just a matter of time.

  • Jeeves

    Es gibt kein Recht auf digitale Öffentlichkeit, aber sehr wohl eines auf den Schutz der Privatsphäre. …meint Don Alphonso. Zu Recht.

    • Dear Jeeves, most people in an english blog tend not to speak german so i would suggest you translate your comment. Furthermore i am pretty sure the people who ar enot in the german blogging szene everyday have not the slightest idea, who Don Alphonso is. Maybe you can show the arguments with which Don Alphonso is trying to persuade the rest so it is easier for the non german speakers in this blog. Thanx.

    • To translate for my fellow Americans (if I’m correct; please correct me):
      “There is no right to digital publicnes but there certainly is a protection of the privatesphere, says Don Alphonso. Quite right.”

      I can’t speak to German law but in the U.S. Constitution, actually, there is no protection of privacy but there certainly is protection of publicness; it’s the First Amendment. The discussion of a right to privacy started in the U.S. only in 1890 because of technology (the invention of the Kodak camera, timed with the start of the penny press). Once again, we are seeing technology raise fears about privacy.

      • In germany its actually that the privacy is pretty well protected. but so far it is allowed for someone to stand on a public street and take a photo of a building. But there is a discussion going on about a so called lex google which should forbit companys to take such fotos and post them together in the net.

      • OliverH

        Well, here you have one of the major differences between the US and the German constitution. Since rights can come into conflict with each other, every constitution has to prioritize which right, in cases of conflict, has higher priority. In Germany, the highest priority is placed on the spectrum of rights concerned with individual dignity. While freedom of expression is guaranteed, you’ll find it much easier to pursue a libel case in Germany than in the US, because the dignity of the victim takes the higher priority to the freedom of expression of the “perpetrator”. As such, privacy is also pretty high up on the list. Article 13 explicitly guarantees that the “Wohnung”, i.e. the place you live in, is inviolate – although exceptions for searches, observation etc. when approved by a judge, are provided.

        Of course, a lot of people in this discussion take this to mean the entirety of the building which, of course, isn’t true. If you as much as open your window and talk with someone on the street, any police officer will happily arrest you if you tell the passerby you robbed a bank the day before, judge approval or not.

        I think what is missed here is that in the past couple of decades, in the high-tech country Germany, a significant number of techno-doubters has developped. And I don’t mean the green party here, which is very much pro modern technology in many aspects as long as they fulfill certain criteria. It’s more kind of a layer of people very set in their ways who have internalized what we tend to call the “civil servant attitude” – “We always did it that way… if we just ran after every new idea, we’d never get anywhere… who do you think you are to tell us how things should really be done…” It’s a bit of a resurgence of the old Adenauer slogan “No experiments”. This, ironically, is also why a lot of this crowd happily accepts the nuclear power perceived as tried-and-true for decades while being skeptical of renewables, again in contrast to the Green party. So for the same reason, this new Google Streetview thing is something scary for them, not the least because they don’t understand it.

        Of course, Google shot itself in the knee majorly when it came out that they did far more than just take pictures… It seemed at times they wanted to take Vattenfall’s place as company which is its own worst enemy…

  • Peter Brülls

    Ah, to quote Helmut Schmidt: “Man muss schon Amerikaner sein, um sich einzubilden, alles müsste nach amerikanischem Muster vonstatten gehen.” This, of course, is a wonderful example

    • For my fellow Americans (correct me, please), that’s: One must be an American to imagine that everything occurs in the American model.
      Ah, but there may be an update to that:
      One must be on the internet to imagine that everything happens on the internet model.
      That’s what we’re really talking about here: the culture of the internet and what that will be: open or closed, free or controlled, public or privatized…..

      • G R Stevens

        You may claim universality because this involves the internet, but for me this is more about the German people – and citing America’s First Amendment in that context is meaningless.

      • I dont’ know how anyone can talk about ‘the internet’ as if it’s just one thing, with one option. How about parts of it are open and parts are private? Imagine that.

    • Isn´t it exactly the arrogance you try to mark here, if you quote something in a language, that isn´t the language of the blog or native language of the owner of the blog and to think everybody has to understand it?

      • There was a New Hampshire politician that in his adverts declared that English was the language of the internet. I believe that was as short sighted as saying that everything on the internet must be public.

  • anna
  • How very very short-sighted.

  • zok

    too sad that all the comments from yesterday/night are gone… last time on this blog for me

    • zok

      sry, mistake. nothing lost

  • jack

    I’m up in the air how I feel about street view and other such services. I use them, so on the one hand I clearly support them. However, I honestly do feel that my privacy is being slowly eroded. People keep talking about laws and social norms of 50 or 100 years ago as if they speak to this issue accurately. They don’t. That’s why we are having this debate and the people who chose to have their homes pixelated have made an important argument. 50 years ago if you took a picture of someones home it wasn’t instantly spread across the world via the web. The impact was not as profound as it is today and the law or the societal norm from that day does not fully speak to the issues at hand on this day. This is a real concern that transcends Google or Facebook, and we need to find solutions that are acceptable to people on both sides of the debate.

    • Exactly.

      Acting as if things are the same as they were in the past is silly.

      I too am not sure where I stand on this issue, but I’m sure it’s not simple.

  • We are talking about 6% of the households in germany. There are around 40000000 households as far as i know. It is not the big majority that has pixeled their houses. If you think about, how politicans from the government talked against google streetview and damned it, i am absolutly astonished so few people followed their advice. it can´t be only lazyness.

    • karl

      The problem: If one person in a big building (like the “Plattenbauten”) doesn’t want his window in StreetView, all the others aren’t shown, too. And if this person is dead, there’s no possibility to recover the images.

  • resident_alien

    “Germany stole from the public”-can you say hyperbole?
    Why exactly do you feel entitled to view any house anywhere around the world just because you feel like it?
    Personally,I’m not bothered whether my place is pixilated or not.If technologically challenged people want their residences pixilated,out of possibly unjustified fears,let them be pixilated and leave them in peace.No skin of your nose,innit?
    Why do you feel entitled to an aesthetically appealing view of a complete stranger’s residence?A blurred picture won’t diminish your quality of life.
    One of the mottos in “Brave New World” is :”Everyone is everyone else’s property.” You apparently agree with this.

  • Andreas

    Not in my backyard! & I have the right to protect my house with a gun!

    That’s e.g. what germans think is strage about Americans. But it is just a cultural difference.

    I think you blow it out of proportions Jeff. Is google street view really that important? I never used it. But even if I would: Who cares about a few houses?

    There are more important things to think about.

  • JeffDontLikeThemPixels

    Oh yawn. Why is it that we Europeans are always expected to accept that the US just isn’t like we would like it to be, but instead is a pre-modern country full of religious nutjobs that believe that the world is 6000 years old and fossils were buried by the Jews in 1920?
    You do things your way over there, we do things our way over here. I’m sorry, dear ‘professor’ whose intellectual prowess culminates in blog posts about Glee, that we so obstinately fail to emulate the beacon of freedom and democracy that is your country.

  • Tender is the Nacht

    244,000 people don’t want their houses viewable on Google? Well, shit, what an outrage. Round ’em up and gas ’em for not embracing the New World Order. Get with the future or snuff yourself.

  • Dave

    “How is one’s privacy violated by taking a photo of a public view from a public street? ”

    That’s all there is to say, really.

    Though I think that the pixelization of faces and number plates is okay.

    • doris

      Dear dave,

      do you believe taking a foto from a house is the end of the ideas of a company like G.? It is only one more step towards a digital totalitarism we will face.
      My home is my castle and not a means for any company to making money with it. Taking a picture of interesting places like Eiffelturm or Brandenburger Tor – okay. but why does G. make that effort to take fotos from all little unimportant streets and their houses and by the way also gathers “accidentally” wlan informations?

  • IstDochEgal

    244.000 was only the beginning Jeff! In the cities not many germans care about street view. In the country more than 50% will decide to get their houses out of street view!

    Anonymity is a right! Privacy is a right! People from a land with things like the NSA will never grok this!

    • Dave

      What exactly has the look of my house without an attached name to do with anonymity and privacy?

    • Jeffrey — New York

      Anonymity is a right! Privacy is a right!

      Are you kidding me? Back in the 80s, when I first lived in Germany, I remember having to go to the police station to register in which apartment I was subletting. On the screen was a representation of the entire apartment building with names for each of the tenants. The guy I was subletting from had actually moved from one apartment to another and had forgotten to tell the police, so I had to bring him to the station and have him prove that he had in fact moved before I could register. Hey, it only took about six trips.

      For Germans to howl about privacy in Germany is nuts. Germans watch each other like they’re living next to felons. Try taking out the trash in Germany and putting a plastic bag where paper should go and you’ll find out just how many Germans are watching you. Germans don’t need a fricking car with camera on top. Germans deal with Human Intel.


      • OliverH

        Sorry, but I seriously doubt that. You probably went to the Einwohnermeldeamt – which is a municipal office, whereas the police is a state entity. And on what screen, please, was a representation of the entire apartment building? In the 80s? Are you kidding me?

      • Jeffrey — New York


        Everyone has to do the Anmeldung process, right? Maybe the Polizei were in the same building as the Einwohnermeldeamt. This was in 1987 in Moabit in Berlin. The office I went to was not far from the Turmstrasse station. Anyway, because of the problem with the guy’s apartment, they let me behind the counter to look at the screen. There was a screen that showed a 2-D representation of the entire building (microfiche, rudimentary computer?), with little boxes filled with names for the tenants. That’s how I found out that the guy had forgotten to tell them he had moved into a apartment on a different floor.

        Anyway, Germans don’t need a car with a camera on top to watch them. Germans authorities and your average nosy-on-steroids German neighbors do a fine job of snooping into other people’s business.


  • Tomtom

    Jeff Jarvis, what’s your problem ? I don’t think, these things are of your concern. And they are not of google’s concern ;-)
    Therefore, google and the www have to stay out.

  • Dave

    The best reaction from those people was in the “Bild” newspaper. It’s the worst tabloid we have.
    A girl said that she sunbathes naked in her garden and that stalkers could find her through street view. That in itself is already not possible with street view, but it gets better.
    She was shown with a picture of herself, her full name and the name of the town she lives in. You can find her address and phone number within seconds like that. And you know she does nude sunbathing, because she voluntarily told it to a newspaper which is read by 10 million people.
    That’s stupidity, ladies and gentlemen.

  • Hello from Germany.

    The general benefits of Google Streetview go without saying.
    Now. I don’t have a house. But I can understand people’s various reasons when they worry about their privacy.

    Not new, but still true: Once information about you goes online it’s almost impossible to take it down.
    Information can be used for various purposes, among these eg. criminal activity. Without even risking to be seen and appear suspicious, people can check out your house’s security system, your type of doors or windows or check for any vulnerabile bits and prepare acordingly.
    There are several governmental offices that already regularly use Google’s services to check upon citizens. They check eg. if you have illegally modified your home without a building licence.
    Now we all know that what is illegal today might suddenly but expectedly become legal tomorrow. (In California this could have been with Proposition 19, which sadly didn’t happen). So sometimes people have their own way of interpreting and reacting to laws or regulations, especially when they involve a lot of unnecessary and rediculous beauracracy or when they feel they are certainly not the ones targeted by particular laws. Somebody who was tea-total all his life has to often go through the same screening tests as everybody else. I am saying this to take the air out of any possible response of: “Well don’t commit a crime of offence then.” Laws improve and change because people dare to break them and thus sometimes prove the law was bad.
    Sometimes you even commit a crime or an offence without knowing it.
    I googled that Germany has roughly 17 Million buildings. Of the 244.000 buildings that were requested to be pixeled, a fair amount are possibly non-residential. There are many companies who do not want to unnessecarily publish information about such things as size or type of car fleet, buildings under construction, type of machinery etc. It might seem a bit weird at first, but if you can prevent data mining or any type of investigations done by other companies or – again – potential thieves, it’s probably not unwise to do so. People steal EVERYTHING! There are gangs going round stealing copper wires from functioning rail installations.
    You can sometimes draw pretty meaningful conclusions about a person or a business only by looking at their property. Of course anyone could just go there and document it themselves. But why make it easy for people like this? They might have to travel half a day just to get there.
    Even in a modern democracy there are good reasons why people want to control what type of information is easily available about them. Maybe Google drives by your building at a time when you have decorated your house with some type of religious stuff. Caught on Google Streetview in the wrong moment for a time of possibly 5 years or longer you will be tagged accordingly. I certainly wouldn’t want this. And since Google doesn’t tell you when and where the camera is hitting the road and since you have been given the right to do so I would advise you to pixel it if you are worried.
    In Germany there are up to 1 Million illegal immigrants. They don’t want to get tagged either. You don’t know if your cousin from Turkey or USA or wherever was leaning out the window when Google drove by. One month later the cops show up. (Incidentally my butt was facing the Google-car while it did its drive-by photo-shooting.)
    Maybe your house is in a pretty desolate shape, but you have just applied for a job. Since your application includes your home adress you can be pretty sure they will check up on your way of living. If I had a small fragile business and it was an important position with hy responsibility I would. Well, maybe. You can’t just fire someone in Germany as you can in the States.
    Think about how much your house says about you. Many fine details, if observed properly will offer people information you wouldn’t want them to have. And I’m not even talking about advertisement. I hate being spammed by billbords of products I can’t afford. But then again, yes, this can become a nasty issue.
    Sometimes there are patch-work families who have to juggle with regulation about where and with whom which child is registered in order to have all three children attend the same school even though they wouldn’t be allowed to because laws are still in favour of married couples. The nosy Miss Headmaster could check Streetview and find what she suspects.
    Germany doesn’t allow publicizing the home address of former sex-offenders (which involves anything from child-rape to a 19 year old boy having consentual sex with an almost 16 year old girl ). Germany believes in rehabilitation and the capability of society to reintegrate former offenders and has understood that increasing punishment doesn’t lead to less crime. But in the USA there are online services where you can scout for sex-offenders on Google Maps. And people have been lynched exactly this way. Ok this is more a problem of current law rather than Streetview.
    Reversely if you have children you may not want to give predators the chance to trawl the virtual neighbourhood for homes displaying obvious signs of kids. People like this often drive around neighbourhoods for days. Why make it easier for them if you have some influence?
    Germany has 430.000 millionaires. Now if you are Bill Gates or whoever, the Google car doesn’t even come close to your property, because even the street is private. But others are wealthy and still don’t have this luxury. And they might fear crime. So they pixel their homes. Just in case. The chance that your home burns down isn’t that high either. So why take the chance?
    Just as there are millionaires who fear regular crime, there are regular law-abiding citizens who fear the government or possible future ones. Fascism just might return. Hitlertime in Germany was only 12 years and power was handed over to Nazis legally on a silver tray. Sure, it’s unlikely. Just as it’s unlikely for nuclear waste to spill into the ground if stored safely in large deposits overground. Still the USA has spent up to now USD 9 billion on the Yucca Mountain radioactive waste repository and has estimated the costs summing up to USD 90 billion in the long run. It seems like they don’t want to risk it.
    In the end it all comes down to the simple thought of:
    Why risk it? Why have information published about you that is of very little benefit to you but offers numerous possible negative consequences when in the hand of the wrong person at the wrong time. I can delete my Facebook account. I can decide whom to allow to photograph my face. But I can’t just delety my home.
    Why take the chance?
    May I remind everyone, that we are talking about a landscape that is virtual. Soon enough StreetView will shift into more advanced technology of documentation anyway.
    And by the way, Mr. Jarvis, if you have a good wire to Google tell them I wish Google displayed the size of the suggested webpages in KBytes in their search results. That would be very helpful to avoid obese websites especially when you surf with a mobile phone.
    Oh, and please tell them to add a button on the German Google News to make it switch eg. to the US ‘news’ results on the same keyword.
    Right now I have to: click the Google logo, click ‘news’, click US news, enter keyword and press return.

    • Dave

      Sorry for not reading everything, but your second point bothered me a bit.
      I don’t think the resolution of the street view pictures is high enough to tell what kind of doors/windows/security system you have.

    • Herr Maffrodit

      full ack. thanks!

  • Conrad

    I’m not an expert on pixelation but of course I couldn’t avoid getting my dose of the stretview discussion, too. Surprisingly enough, my first contact with Nazis and Stasi in that context was this blog; and you know these things tend to show up in context with pretty much everything in Germany sooner or later. So I was just wondering if what a mob at a Grünen convention (or whereever that came up) has to say is something that should be presented as if it was something Germans in general care about.
    From what I’ve experienced it’s more some kind of vague fear. “They will collect all the data they can so it can be used for…SOMETHING!” And people don’t expect that “SOMETHING” to be good…

  • Mike

    I think you dont fully understand the situation out of which the Verpixelungsrecht was born. You should really look at the whole situation we have at the moment in Germany.
    Our government, like many others is trying to implement surveillance & access blocking for the Internet, long term connection storage, deep packet inspection, mobile usage information, basicaly everything to destroy anonymity, privacy (who has done nothing wrong has nothing to hide), transparency etc. because these thing can be dangerous for the government and for the big companies as well.
    Many of these “good” ideas are actually coming from the European Union or America.
    The reasons given might differ from time to time, terrorism, child pornography, intellectual property theft – ACTA , plagiarism, trade secrets etc. whatever feels suitable at a given time and place.
    This movement that is being criticized when it happens in China, Iran, Cuba etc. is happening.

    Now how does this relates to Streetview?

    People do not really like that their private lives get more and more intruded and think that the government is not doing enough for their privacy, that we are being sold out to government and companies.

    The government of course likes to show that they care for privacy and the fears of people and that they actually do something, so they take action on stuff that does not really interest them – Google, Facebook etc. so they can distract attention from the stuff the government does.
    How much they understand about street view you can see that the police was thinking about doing patrol on street view – guess they understood it would be a live view, which would surely bring more privacy concerns.
    Things have worked out well and the politicians could brag that the do something against the big companies for the small people. Even better once people start to complain about the blurring they can say that privacy is not really a problem.
    If you are honest neither company is really a victim there, because neither Schmidt nor Zuckerberg give a penny for your privacy. You might say they have a vision of openness, I would say their vision is $$$ and the more information, the better advertisement and the more $$$ – they care a s?!t about privacy and users. I am sure you can find the remarks from both telling that.

    Street view is a nice tool, but having some blank spots will not be the end of the world. Surveillance and suppression of free speech are much more dangerous to our democracies.
    If Google had put their cameras a bit lower and had not also recorded Wlan data, there might not have been much to criticize (as pointed out others do the same) and they would not have had to agree to blur any pictures.
    Even more they would not have given the government a chance to pretend that the government cares about privacy where they are in reality working on destroying it. This is a point where you can blame Google because they dont care and with this ignorance they dont do us any favor.

    • doris

      Mike, na, also, das find ich ja witzisch, wie Sie den US-Amerikanern Schland erklären.
      Na, da freuen wir uns, dass nur Regierungen so tun, als ob. Aber doch niemals eine Firma, und eine company sowieso nie.

  • doris

    ugly? a pixeled house? maybe war is ugly, or poorness, or lack of a good “Sozialversicherungsgesetz” every democratic country should have – that´s really ugly. best regards, D.

  • when you use Bing maps, not in Oberstauffen, but in all bigger Citys, you can see beautyfull, rich detailed birdsview imiges without any pixels. Googel startet streetview only at the wrongest time: Sommerloch. There was nothing else to publish in the media.

    • Doyle

      Everyone knows Google, only few people know Bing maps. So noone was aware of the fact that streetviews are available online before Google showed up with his project.

      Collecting digital data in this huge measure leads to another problem some people start to understand: Sooner or later the data collected by different organizations could be put together. As long as a couple of data is “isolated” typically people don’t care. That’s one reason why loyalty cards are so popular because still most people don’t get the fact that the supplier does a lot more than simply giving you bonus points.

      SV suddenly makes a few people aware of the problem that one day some suppliers and companies share data, combine facts and get an intense impression of you and your life. We have legal solutions for the use of pictures, the use of loyalty card data and so on. But we don’t have a solution for the future use of those data masses, which maybe is not even fully identified. I think this is rather a bigger problem than the current action of taking photographs of streets and places.

      I really can’t believe that even the supporters of SV want to become glassy for anyone with access to the data. Usually we agree sharing our data as long as we can control the result or as long as we at least believe we could do so; we come to a point where we can’t control that any longer and we get aware of the fact.

      • Eric Gauvin

        Correct. Bing’s Bird’s eye view is often much more useful because it is clearer and gives better context.

        This seems to show that this is anti-google — not anti-maps…

        Also, many have compared this to standing out in public and taking snapshots. It’s not really about photography. It’s about creating maps with photo illustrations (using your property).

        For some reason photos taken from the air seem less intrusive than those taken from the street. Perhaps the sv photos seem more like surveillance and the aerial photos seem more like maps.

  • John

    what a bore. Don’t you have real problems to worry about?
    get on with the real live.

    • Dave

      What a bore. Don’t you have real problems to read about?
      get out and read them if this is boring to you.

  • Andrew de Andrade

    Could Google get around this absurdity by rebuilding the image of the blurred building from other public domain photos on the Internet.

    For example, if a German citizen goes to this building, photographs it, tags it and marks it as public domain on Flickr, could Google then use this image to rebuild the missing data and be legally okay?

    The privacy issue would no longer be with Google but with the person who took the original photo. With enough photos of each of these buildings it makes it impossible to remove that building’s likeness from the Internet.

    Another option would be to compile a list of all buildings like this and then public the list for average German citizens to go photograph and publish online. Basically make is so that making such an absurd request is counterproductive.

  • Angela

    Keep up the dissent!!!!!

  • Angela

    Keep up the dissent!!! How about a bit of Verpixelungsrecht for this wah-wah, cry baby blog? Germany, do not tow line, submit to the global intrusion oft-perpetuated by Google. It is each Germans prerogative to say “‘nein”. I support that.

  • Angela

    Keep up the dissent!!! How about a bit of Verpixelungsrecht for this wah-wah, cry baby blog? Germany, do not tow the line, submit to the global intrusion oft-perpetuated by Google. It is each Germans prerogative to say “‘nein”. I support that.

    • Well, you may be saying “nein” to other tech companies coming near Germany because the cost and hassle are so high.

  • Tender is the Nacht

    Jarvis Google uber alles.

  • Chipman

    Nice headline: “Germany, what have you done?”
    Not “Germany” did something. Some people did something. Anyway, why do you think you can adjudge a country when some people try to get their rights? You say, it’s ugly? Ugly is Guantanamo – remember waterboarding? … But one point is very interesting. You write “Germans have raised the Stasis and Nazis (I didn’t).” So you did now. So you think so? Or why did you write it? This reminds me to stupid comments from Donald Rumsfeld like his famous “Old Europe” in 2003…

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  • The usage of an asset can have an impact on the asset itself. It doesn’t matter if it is free or not.
    And in a digital world with instant access to systematically collected data the range of personal identity stretches further than your biological self walking around.
    With StreetView:
    The act of observation is different from that of a person. Google is NOT a person. It systematically collects and organizes images of views. But those views are not the same as that of a human being. If it were just a human view I couldn’t zoom into it without even being there and without getting closer to the building or using a telescoping lense. It is the dimension that makes it a product and a completely different action than a person looking at a building, even photographing it, measuring it. This involves much more energy than just going online and the owner *knows* that. He knows if someone were to systematically observe his particular home, it would take time and he would risk to be seen and confronted.

    You can not just narrrow it down to it just being a view. If law was like that then it should be legal to photograph military sites. Or build your own nuclear powerstation, make your own alcohol, educate your own kids (a big difference between Germany and USA. Where Germany sees the need to guarantee every person’s right to proper education, the USA making abortion hard, but then allows the parent to have sole control over it’s childrens thoughts and information supply.)
    It’s not really important whether an asset seems free or not. Important is how different ways of consumption affect the asset. The way you use the asset can influence or reduce other people’s quality of life. Society will always control people to some extent. The strength of democracy is that it is so flexible.
    The First Amendment garantees freedome of speech. But society has decided that you just can’t speak freely and publically about how to build a certain types of military equipment or confidential information from the company you worked for.

    John Stuart Mill: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

    May 2010 (from The Telegraph)

    “Murderer used Google Earth before targeting victim’s home.

    A prolific burglar used Google Earth to target an 85 year old woman whom he strangled in her bungalow before setting it on fire.
    …Detectives later discovered Hodgson had checked out the neighbourhood on the Google Earth website two days before he struck.
    Files on his computer showed he had viewed aerial images showing a corner of the sheltered accommodation comprising ten bungalows in Hartburn, near Stockton, Teesside.
    He went on to select Mrs Thomspon’s home as “an easy target”, getting in through an open bathroom window last September.”

    It might be true, that crime does not increase in general. But with tools like Google, the targeting becomes easier, crime becomes more effective. People who fear to be potential victims need to be able to prevent this to a certain degree. Societies decide as to how much.
    Other discussions will arise soon. Should it be legal to have a webservice that gathers every bit of data from an individual, using such technologies as scanning photos people didn’t even know they were on, spelling grammar and wording analysis of public posts people wrote incognito thinking they were safe, and more?

    Lucky is the person who feels he or she has nothing to hide. But this can change within minutes, even seconds. Not everybody can make the drama of cancer treatment or a break-up part of their valuable image campaign.

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  • What a fabulous rant. The author seems to think that because it visually offends him “Verpixelung” is wrong.
    I could do a nice and easy Nazi parallel here, but I’m going to try to show the flaws in the argument without resorting to despair.

    1. The author claims that the Germans devalue their public picture by blurring their buildings,

    May I remind the author that the blurring is only online. The real world is still beautifully unblurred (as the author points out later, when it suits his argument) and can be viewed in all it’s glory in Oberstaufen and elsewhere in Germany. Just because something isn’t in accordance with someone’s (or even a few people’s) aesthetic preference that is not a valid reason to ban it.

    2. The author claims that because buildings can viewed (and photographed) publicly it should be available to be viewed online.

    When I leave my house other people (i.e. the public) can see me. That doesn’t make me public property or give anyone the right to take photos of me and put them out online. Even if I have a facebook page, a website or any other form of online presence, whatever info or image of me that goes online should be subject to my permission. I need to be able to decide and have control what I can reveal and to whom (this of course is an ideal world situation thanks to the onders of CCTV).
    This is not only because of safety concerns but, in an ideal world, should be a human right.

    3. If others do it, it’s ok…

    …seems to be one great argument of the author and a number of commentators.
    Silly question(s): If company X produce their stock using child labour, can company Y justify it by pointing out that this is just what their competitors are doing?
    Or a bit closer to life: If Rob robs a bank, is it ok for me to do the same?
    Granted, “streetview” might also be available from other websites and, due to them being less well-known, might not be as disputed. Indeed, a home-owner, let’s call him Herr Schmitt, might ask google to blur their house and at the same time that same guy has no idea his house can be found on a different website.
    As for the Telefonbuch (patronising translation: phone book). Yeah, the Telefonbuch lists all landline phone numbers in Germany unless, like my mother, you opt out.

    Also, can I just say, that Germany is the biggest country with the highest population in Europe. In Germany there live roughly 82 million people. If we assume that an average households is made up of 4 people that gives us 20.5 million properties in Germany (not including public buildings, offices, tourist attractions.
    Now, my maths isn’t great, but 244, 000 out of 20.5 million is hardly a reason to call the ugly brigade.

    Another interesting point the author raises is that Germans do it out of spite to Americans. Although I’m not saying that Germans are always 100% pro-American (good!) one should take note that America’s profile has been raised slightly in Germany (and other European countries) thanks to (let’s simplify it slightly) President Obama. The argument of the America-hating German/ European is simply rubbish.
    Sur, there are “America haters” in Germany and Europe but I’d be surprised. if their number were greater than those of uncritical “America enthusiasts”

    There are simply Germans (including me) who feel that the information we share should be controlled by us. This includes protecting information and pictures of our homes.

    Eva Maler
    German living in the most-spied on country in the world (the UK)

    • The author’s name is Jeff.

      • My apologies, Jeff.

        Any chance we get past this and you have a go at replying to the points I made?

    • Very good comment with very good points!

    • Eric Gauvin


      You’ve read her comment and taken the time to make a snotty comment…

      Rather than simply brush her off as someone who disagrees with you, why not respond to one or more of her carefully written comments?

      • Christian

        The author can not be bothered to reply with a post that requires more than 140 characters. I do enjoy that the new media guru has taken to expanding his gurudom into the realms of history and geopolitics; invoking Nazis and the Stasi is a fantastic way for you to lend credence to your views about Germany. Maybe the Teutonic Knights will make an appearance as this saga unfolds. I can’t wait to hear about your opinion of the Kaiser’s hat.

  • Sven

    Sorry, but the following, being the key statement in the version of your post appearing in DIE ZEIT is simply wrong or at least extremely missleading:

    “Those buildings are fully visible and photographed from public streets. Anyone exercising Germany’s Panoramafreiheit may photograph them. But not Google, not if the owner requests pixelization, and 244,000 German buildings have.”

    Of course Goolge may (and did) photograhe these buildings. Google may also make these pictures available if it wants. The company simply decided not to do so. There is no “Verpixelungsrecht” as a formal right, it is simply a policy of Google that it pixelates the houses if the owner (or tenant) requests it.

    So, as it is the right of Google to publish streetview pictures of all streets in Germany if it wants, it is also the right of Google to only publish pixelated pictures of some houses. That does not affect your or anyone else’s right to take pictures of these houses and publish them. However, there is no right for you or anyone else to have a completely unpixelated Google streetview, even if you think those pixelated buildings are ugly.

    • “The company simply decided not to do so.” Utter crap. It was pressured by politicians and media into doing this. Government even put up forms for people to demand their Verpixelungsrecht. They were pressured into this. Beware the pressure of government and media. We have seen where it leads.

    • @Sven: You are right. There is no formal right in Germany, though it’s a difficult legal question about the rights (see in German language for example). I think there is one important point for discussion, let’s do it simple: All say, buildings can be seen by people. Yes.

      Google Streetview worked with cars and cameras 3 meters high. Did anyone see a person to make a photo on a 3 meter ladder (or something else) from a public building anywhere in a street? So this is one of some points to be discussed. I think of limited height of fences or so – they can’t be 3 meters high. And: Iif you use Streetview you can identify many people cause face recognition still works bad.

      By the way it’s totally ridiculous what happened in Germany: All people hat to identify themselves by adress and names by saying no against Streetview. So Google got more information than by photo of a building…

      But I’m getting very angry if some people like Jeff think everything should be free and got embarrassed if some (little) people don’t agree – and then the whole nation again is under suspect. We are in the 21th century, many things especially by internet have changed, but this is a point and view from the middle of last century. This was the fact I wanted to write an answer to this article.

      And to pick up one point of the comment of Eva Maler: I agree, that there are not so many “American haters”, but people are getting a little bit more crucial of American behaviour. This is one result of the internet, too…

      • What I can stand in public and see in public is free for the public. Restrict that and you restrict my freedom.

      • bull

        “What I can stand in public and see in public is free for the public. Restrict that and you restrict my freedom.”

        Male cow feces!

      • You can stand in public wherever you want, no restriction, Jeff… By the way I tried to find Streetview in some gated communities like Rosemont, Il. Are there some restrictions?

  • Ryo

    Hi Jeff,
    in TWiG #67 you said, that all the people in Germany are now mad at you. I think you’re wrong on that. Despite the big anti-Google propaganda from the government, it shows that most people don’t care, and the rest is parted.

    I, for myself, are ashamed of what my government is doing and what some minority groups are stressing to the public. It IS ridiculous to pledge for a “privacy” of a wall.

    But I also like the thing you say about that, and the action you take. I don’t want to be in a antic country that completely missed the 21st century. So please, keep on pressing the issue for the people that actually live in the present.

    • Thanks, Ryo, I needed that.

    • Eric Gauvin


      Don’t sound so dejected…

      If people disagree with you or ask you to elaborate or provide a more thoughtful analysis, it doesn’t mean they are mad at you.

  • Uli

    Can ‘Verpixelung’ be regarded as ‘measure that controls access to copyrighted works’?

    If so – will I be circumventing this measure by going to ‘Oberstaufen’ and looking at the house myself?

    Must I close my eyes there to comply with the law? I can already imagine people bumping into each other in front of that house …

    How much fun we could have – if we took everything serious enough ;-)

  • Gregor

    Hey Jeff,

    in your book “What would Google do” you explain, that companies should not force their customers into their strategies. And now you seem not to understands what happens here in Germany? Some Germans simply do not want a company like google to controll and know everything. Street View itself might not be the problem as a service provided by another company. But knowing that this is another tool which again will be controlled by google it is more than easy to understand why people do not want to support this. There are several people that are concerned about the power google already has. What about abuse of all the data etc.? The “anti-google movement” in Germany is not only about street view. it is about a too powerfull company that seems to know too much about its users ….

    • I’m coming to think it is anti-capitalist and anti-American.

      Did you complain when T-Mobile published a picture of your backyard from above?

  • Vic

    As someone whose home will be pixelated, I find it rather funny to read what the “pro-street view” crowd thinks my motives might be (and also that you, Jeff, seem to see it as some kind of assault on the public’s freedom).
    I do understand what SV is about and I spent some time considering if I really wanted to opt-out before I did.
    So why did I opt-out? Because I could imagine some people I didn’t want to be able to see my home with virtually no effort at all.

    Burglars have already been mentioned. Is it likely that burglars will use SV to prepare themselves for breaking into my home – not really, but it’s possible nevertheless.
    What about a future boss of mine? When I apply for a new job, I already have to worry about stupid stuff somebody may have said about me on the internet (I don’t have a facebook or myspace account, but of course I can only control what I myself make public, not what others do), I don’t want to worry if my prospective boss likes the colour of my house or if it matters to him whether or not there are drapes on the windows, if the house needs some fixing, whether it’s a dump or a villa &tc. OF COURSE that prospective boss could drive by and take a look, or let somebody take pictures or something like that – I doubt they would. They also wouldn’t try to find some old schoolmates and ask them what I was like back then, but they probably will google my name because, just like looking up an address on SV, it’s not much of an effort.
    Do I want an insurance salesman to know those things about my home? No, I don’t, nor do I want any other salesman trying to sell me a new roof, fence, windows, …
    What about people who try to bully me? It’s not much fun to hear somebody say they “know where you live” even if you don’t believe them because they’d have to go to some lengths to find out (my address and phone number aren’t in the telephone book, neither in print nor online) and you do have neighbours watching out for anything “unusual”.

    I’m really sorry if you feel this is an assault on your freedom, but if I have to choose between your freedom to see my front garden and my freedom not to be bothered by burglars, nosy salesmen and bullys, I think I’ll choose mine.

    • Well, I think you should be sorry. Very selfish act. By the way, it makes me wonder what you have to hide. I think that’s the unintended consequence of your action.

      • Vic

        LOL, “What do you have to hide?” Really, is that all you can come up with? If I don’t want you to see my home online I must have something to hide? That’s ridiculous. Just as ridiculous as thinking people who don’t want to give their fingerprints or DNA voluntarily have something to hide. But then again, perhaps it’s not easy for you to understand that some Germans like to decide for themselves what they consider private, because you don’t have that privilege. Believe me, sometimes it’s difficult for me (and, I guess, for other Germans) to understand you guys, too, (why, e.g., do all of my (US) American friends think they need to have a gun at home, even though they’re living in decent places?), but we needn’t agree on everything, nor do we need to lecture each other on the consequences the other one might face. As for being selfish: I think you’re being a bit selfish yourself if you think I should give up my privacy for your entertainment (or to facilitate somebody elses business, be it to sell insurances or carpets).

        P.S.: I take your comment of November 7th (the one stating you’re “a bit too out of the way”) to mean that your home won’t be on SV. Don’t be too disappointed, if you feel people should have the possibility to see your home online (or if you fear people will think you have something to hide), you needn’t wait for google, you yourself can take some photos and post them online. Or ask google to come by – I’m sure they’d make it possible and you could blog about it, too! (Not to mention you’d “set a good example” for selfish people like me).

        • But the front of your house is not private. Anyone can see it. You’re trying to make the public private and that is done at the expense of the public.

      • Oh yes. Very intellectual answer. I can’t imagine that a journalist and professor could write such a nonsense. Is it something linke hidden camera here? Some 10 years old internals answering comments? So anyone who is against public interests (and by the way: SV is not really public interest, only Google interest) or is against your interest automatically has to hide something… I’m sure this is not general America thinking (so my American relatives and friends do not) but part of growing paranoiac behaviour.

        Here in Germany new ID cards are made – and you can choose to put fingerprint to the chip. So everyone who will not do it is suspected by you to hide something? This is really a ridicolous, as Vic said. Mabye you should read German constitution, article 2. Here is a very important point about freedom of action. So it’s the freedom of choice to decide: yes or no.

        But to come to an end: Such answers let me doubt you are really and seriously interested in other opinions. So I don’t want to waste my time here anymore.

  • bingfan

    Google was very clever to give people the choice to get out of it – so now the big majority is happy to be in it.

  • bxl

    why do you people in the us actually care if you can see the front of a house in oberstaufen? dont you have other problems? what the hell is wrong with you guys…

  • bxl

    why do you care so much to see the front of a house in oberstaufen? dont you have other problems? whats wrong with you guys?

    • Claudia

      @bxl asks “what’s wrong with [us] guys?” I recall reading that hordes of (possibly closeted-)Googling Germans were using Street View long before it was launched in your country. What’s wrong with us, indeed. If the desire to view the facade of a person’s house is so reprehensible, I would suggest you direct your original question to your own countrymen to determine their motives.

  • Eric Gauvin

    Hi Jeff,

    Google streetview also blurs license plates (in the good ol’ USA).

    Why do they blur license plates? License plates are in the public?

    What else do they blur and what are their criteria for blurring?

    Are you as passionate about blurred license plates as you are about German houses?

  • Roger H.

    Actually the discussion here is wrong. It is not just about the house, because anyone could go and see it. It is about the usage of that information and multiple data combination to profile the person, who lives in this particular house. And use or sell this profile information for business purposes, probably unsolicited.
    That are the concerns from people that let Google pixelate their home. They want to stop for them the uncontrolled data collection of Google. Google Street View is just one more type of data.

    • Pixelating a house does nothing to data. And there’s far more information — far more identifiable — in offline data bases that marketers have used for years. It starts with the phone book and adds from there.

      • Eric Gauvin

        If it does nothing to data, then what does it matter?

        Also, as I commented above Google already pixelates license plates, so apparently they have some sort of pixelation policy or criteria. How do they determine what to pixelate? I wonder what other things they pixelate.

        Why do they blur license plates? License plates are in the public?

        Are you as passionate about blurred license plates as you are about German houses?

        • Eric,
          You might want to give up. I have given up reading your comments and will not comment on them.

      • Eric Gauvin

        I really think you should know google’s policy for pixelating parts of street view photos before you selectively criticize parts of it…

        • Romkah

          I agree with you, but a citizen should have the right to protect themselves.

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  • Street View started in Germany. That’s how it looks like:

    You are so right: what have we done!?

  • Eric Gauvin

    Streetside view from Bing. Is really amazing and interesting. Provides a better illustrated map and seems less invasive. (much more collaborative and high-tech, less big-brother-ish) I wonder how the Germans would react.

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  • german anti-modernist

    It’s not art or nature – it’s just an internet service.

    Definitely not worth the uproar – on both sides. Why care for Googles business models? If people don’t want them, so be it.

    And by the way – not everything what is new is an improvement or “modern”. You can easily find postcards 200 years old showing 360 degree views of squares in bigger european cities. So it’s the same old thing just transported to a new medium.

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  • about, next step

    Sascha Lobo, german blogger, did the next step: pixeled postcards
    great idea

  • andi berlin

    this comments have something BIG BROTHER like, which makes me frown!
    Jeff Jarvis seems to be the Über-Big-Brother, go for president Mr Jarvis

  • andi salgo

    This comments have something BIG BROTHER like, which really makes me frown, whats wrong with you? And Mr Jarvis seemst to be the Über-Big Brother, go for President Mr Jarvis

  • David Rochat

    Everybody has right to privacy, but everybody should be consistent too. If an owner of a house wants his building blurred on Google street, he should then think of covering the building with curtains in the real world too… I guess people are just slow to accept a changing world, and get anxious about their privacy being shown on the cyber-public domain just as it is in the real cyber-domain.

  • Stefan

    In defence of the Germans, only 3% excersised their Verpixelungsrecht. I imagine these 3% to be the last living Stasi ex-members, and probably their children, stuck in the mentality of the cold war.
    97% of all Germans either don’t care or even embrace the new technology.

  • Lara

    How could we do this? I’m German, I know Germans using Streetview to browse through different cities in the world. But when it comes to them others should not do the same? Hypocrite! AND THE WORST PART: some stupid neighbors of ours have pixeled our house without even asking us. Will I get my house back? Please tell me that Google will do something against this crazy hype…f.i. by making the banning-process more difficult.

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  • Nancy

    I think a lot of older people 0r paranoid types are against Street View, I understand that. Plus some people don’t want people they know, to see how they live. I think what bothers a lot of people is this: I on my part love to look up pictures of where I grew up and see my mom’s & sister’ house, my old schools etc thousands of miles away. I just wish they had pictures of my house in the summer instead of on a rainy autumn day.

  • I read this with a similar view as the author, but personal privacy should definately be in the interest of everyone involved. A 3M pole camera taking pictures on a public road is one thing, but taking stock of where people spend their time should be private. It is not that I wish to do things unsavory but that I do not want my actions to be on a ticker tape or facebook itinerary for the world to see. If I enjoy going to the library a lot I don’t wish to be labeled or for the world to know about it. I just want to enjoy it in peace.

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  • Godefroy

    Honestly,this is democracy, the view of a single party does not rule all.
    If some people are not comfortable with having their house on Street View, then that is their, and only thier, prerogative to have it peixelated.
    I think all governements should follow Germany’s leadership on that point of view and protect their citizen from exposure and visibility they are not comfortable with.

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