Why does Germany (almost) not appear on Google Street View?

When one walks in Europe on Street View, a detail jumps to the eyes. While most countries on the continent are covered in blue lines, indicating that Google’s virtual navigation service is available, Germany has almost none. And, when you click on the twenty bluish islets that dot the country – the twenty largest German cities, you realize that the photos taken by Google date from almost fifteen years ago.

Since 2007 and the first trips of Google cars on the streets of the United States, the American giant has nevertheless continued to extend its service in the world to the most remote corners of the planet. In 2019, more than 16 million km of roads were photographed, reports the media specializing in technology Cnet. If it is possible to visit the Amazon forest from your computer, the main German avenues remain inaccessible.

“We are currently not planning to make new images of German streets available in Street View”, responds to a Google spokesperson. It is not the desire that is missing: “We would like to update the maps, but German data protection regulations unfortunately prevent this.”

“In no other country has Google caused so much outrage”

It must be said that the arrival of Street View in the country caused an outcry, both in the press and among politicians. Ilse Aigner, then Minister of Consumer Protection, castigated this “global photographic offensive” in a 2010 interview with the magazine focus, believing that the Google images constituted a “violation by millions of the right to privacy”.

I reject this form of exposure. There is no secret service that would collect photos so casually. – Ilse Aigner, former German consumer protection minister

Google quickly came up against the mistrust of locals. More than 240,000 people, or nearly 3% of households in the twenty cities mapped, have requested that their homes be blurred, notes the American giant in a post published in 2010. Some Google cars have even been vandalized.

In 2011, the company abandoned its mapping work in Germany.“Even though no one at Google would officially tell a media representative, it is clear that the company has lost interest in digitizing German cities after the protests that erupted during the launch of Street View in Germany”estimates the German newspaper Die Zeit in an article published in 2014. “In no other country in the world has Google caused as much outrage as in Germany”.

Screenshot of a blurred house on Google Street View on a street in Stuttgart (Germany). Google

The specter of the past

Privacy and the protection of personal data are particularly sensitive issues in Germany. You have to go back in history to understand the reason for this fierce mistrust. The trauma of the Nazi Gestapo and the East German Stasi, two state police forces that intensely monitored the population, still weigh on the population.

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“After all, it was population registers and punch card systems that enabled the Nazis to carry out their genocide with such cruel efficiency. Likewise, authoritarian regimes that gathered information about citizens, like the GDR, restricted the freedom of action of affected individuals in a way that no one to this day has forgotten”writes Klaus Lüber, specialist in culture and media, in an article published on the website of the Goethe Institut.

Thus, in 1977, (West) Germany became the first country to adopt a general text on the protection of personal data, underlines the Senate. In the 1980s, the Court ruled unconstitutional certain provisions of the German population census law, which allowed the federal government to collect personal information. It created on occasion a new constitutional right: the right to “informational self-determination“, that is to say the right for each individual to decide for himself the communication and use of information concerning him.

Less and less pronounced sensitivity

“Since then, data protection has become, in Germany, the expression of the overriding principle of the constitution, of the dignity of the individual and of the fundamental right to the protection of individual personality”, adds Klaus Lüber. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force in the European Union in 2018, was also based on the German model.

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This concern for confidentiality is illustrated even in transactions, which are still mainly carried out in cash, even if the proportion tends to decrease from year to year (80% of payments were made with banknotes and coins in 2014 , compared to 60% in 2020 according to the German Bank, which is close to the French figures).

Nevertheless, social networks, which collect, use and monetize personal data, are just as present in Germany as in the rest of the European Union. “Google has captured more than 90% of the search engine market in Germany”, notes BigThink, and more than 60% of Germans had a Facebook account in 2020 according to figures from Statista. Still central a few years ago, sensitivity to data protection issues seems to be less and less pronounced in Germany.

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