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Google: 244,000 Germans say 'no' to Street View

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MELISSA EDDY | October 21, 2010 07:32 AM EST | AP

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BERLIN — Internet giant Google says more than 244,000 Germans have asked that their homes be made unrecognizable in its Street View program, scheduled to launch in Germany next month.

Google estimated in a statement released Thursday that the requests amount to about 3 percent of the total number of households in Germany's 20 largest cities, images of which are to go online as part of the company's mapping program.

"The high number of objections to Google Street View shows that citizens want to decide which data about themselves is published on the Internet," said Peter Schaar, the head of Germany's data protection watchdog.

German authorities had demanded that Google allow citizens to request the homes not be pictured in Street View, insisting that posting images of private residences on the Internet violated individual privacy.

Street View is currently available in 23 countries. Germany is the only one where citizens could request their homes be removed before the program went online. But the service has also been disputed in South Korea and elsewhere amid fears that people – filmed without their consent – could be seen on the footage doing things they didn't want to be seen doing or in places where they didn't want to be seen.

The California-based company lost the trust of many in Europe this spring when it had to acknowledge that the technology used by its Street View cars had also vacuumed up fragments of people's online activities broadcast over public Wi-Fi networks for the past four years.

Authorities in Spain, meanwhile, said Thursday that Google faces two probes there over Street View, after the country's data protection agency said it had found evidence that the company may have committed five offenses by capturing and storing data from users connected to Wi-Fi networks while it collected material for its mapping feature, and transferred this data to the United States.

If found guilty, the company could be fined up to euro2.4 million ($3.33 million).

The body said, however, the probe would be suspended temporarily until a Madrid court rules on another similar complaint made against Google in June by a private Spanish Internet watchdog and technology consultancy group called APEDANICA.

No one from Google in Spain was available for comment on the two cases.

In Germany, Google warned that while it was taking care to make sure that all requests are honored, "it cannot be guaranteed that every application that we have received can be fully processed. For example in cases where the address given is not clear."

Google will also provide a tool for anyone requesting to have images captured in Street View to be made unrecognizable. The tool will be made available when the service goes online.

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Associated Press Writer Ciaran Giles contributed to this report from Madrid, Spain.