Google, no greenhorn to controversy, is now stirring the Hassenpfeffer with their implementation of Germany’s Street Views. Germany’s stricter privacy laws are causing problems that were not encountered in the US, Britain and France while implementing Google’s Street Views.
The initial resistance to Street Views was quickly dropped by German officials after Google agreed to use pixilation to hide license plates, faces, and house numbers. Google also allowed citizens the right to completely remove their property from photo archives. The option was fully embraced by hundreds of concerned German citizens and as a result of Google’s efforts, the service should be activated in Germany by the end of 2010.
Short story, no problem right? Wrong! Later German regulators expressed more resistance when they learned that Google was also recording the location of wireless routers for W.L.A.N.’s in homes and businesses. All of these routers broadcast a unique ID number or MAC address. Google was asked to end the practice by Germany’s Data Protection Administrator, Peter Schaar.
Google’s response? “What we are doing is totally legal and is being done by other companies around the world and in Germany,” says Kay Oberbeck, Google spokesperson. Listing others that also collect this date, Google seems to have missed the point. It reminds me of when my kids would respond with, Well Jimmy’s mom lets him do it, when I told them not to climb the 100 foot water tower. It’s not that it can’t be done, it’s that Google is collecting the data for a reason. One of the many things that can be done with the data is to use it or sell it for location based advertising for mobile phones. Perfect, just what I want is a streamlined way to increase the irritation caused by unwanted advertisements being sent to my cell phone. That way I can pay money for not receiving what I don’t want. Jimmy is doing it and hasn’t fallen to his death, why can’t I.
While politicians and sympathetic parties respond that this is all a tempest in a teapot, I believe that to rely on Google’s good intentions to guard my privacy while making unimaginable coin from my existence would be rather short sighted and evidently Hamburg’s Senator For Justice, Till Steffen, feels the same way. The Senator plans to introduce a bill that would impose fines of €50,000, or $66,000, for every instance where Google failed to eliminate the data of citizens who had opted out of Street View. “We cannot rely on the good will of Google for the filming of people and property, we have to have a law that is legally binding.” Formalization into law is necessary, but still does not protect German citizens from the harm that could come from knowing the location and MAC address of their Networks.
Johannes Caspar, head of data protection in Hamburg feels like I do. “The question is what will Google do with this information?” “How are they going to use it?” “That’s what I want to find out”.
That’s what I want to know too Johannes.
I know none of this is new activity but I can’t help but imagine that within a short time untold numbers of companies, people, and agencies will know my whereabouts every minute and second of everyday. It’s not that I have large scale illegal activities planned, no human smuggling or narcotics shipments going out. I just don’t like thought of someone watching me scratch my butt or curse the keyboard while I work.
Do my concerns seem like paranoia? Does it bother you that you’re being filmed, snapped, located and tracked every minute by Traffic Cameras, Retail Security Cameras, Google Earth, Cell Phones, ATM’s and who knows what else?
Let me know you thoughts, concerns, and opinions.
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