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Germany's love-hate relationship with Google Street View

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"Germany has a long tradition of protecting privacy and personality rights (especially due to the very bad surveillance practices of the Nazi régime)," says Thomas Hoeren, a law professor at the University of Muenster's Institute for Information in Germany. "Therefore, the country has one of most restrictive data protection acts in the world. And of course these regulations have to be applied to Google and the collection of personal data by Google."

"But there is a deeper problem," he wrote by e-mail. "In Germany, there is an unconscious fear, a kind of transference regarding Google: Google is big, it is becoming bigger and bigger, it is intransparent."

Good snoopers don't want to be snooped on

According to Der Spiegel, at least 10,000 Germans have requested their homes be blurred on Street View since May 2009. Meanwhile, Google says that several hundred thousand Germans already use Street View every week, making Germany the program's biggest user of any country that isn't yet mapped. “Millions of Germans have already used Street View to explore other countries,” says Ms. Hurowitz.

Germans, it seems, want to see your home on Street View, but they don't want you seeing theirs. To put it another way, they want to be the snoopers and not the snoop-ies.

"People always want to see what they can see," says Professor Hoeren. "That has nothing to do with any 'German' mentality. But of course, all these persons would never allow others to intrude their privacy."

The deadline for Germans to request their home be blurred is Sept. 15, but removal requests will continue to be accepted and implemented after the maps go online in November. If even one apartment tenant requests removal, then the entire apartment building is blurred. Google has not yet tallied the number of requests for removal, according to Hurowitz, “but proportionate to the overall population of Germany it’s quite low.”

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