The Google Street View Car
It's easy to think that the internet is everywhere and that it's the same wherever you go. When we're on Amazon, for example, and we're told that we can't download a particular song because it's not yet available in America, that seems really strange. After all, we're not in America, we're online, right? But differences in the web experience are common, and no one knows that better than Google.
Over the past few months, Google has hit a very rough patch with China. (The country wants to censor the information that Chinese citizens can find through Google's search engine.) And now, Germany is complaining about Google and its popular Street View feature.
We admit that Street View was a little creepy when it first rolled out. Our reaction vacillated between "Dude, check out my house!" and "Holy crap, dude, my house is online". Before long, though, we became comfortable with the technology, and any privacy concerns it raised went to the back burner. Today, Street View has saved many drivers a lot of time when they've been looking for a particular address. (New developments are making it useful for shoppers and restaurant goers, too.)
Germany, however, is much warier of Street View, and the country wasn't entirely happy to hear about Google's plans to make the streets of 20 German cities available on Street View by the end of the year. The public has since flooded Google with opt-out requests, and German officials have met with Google and asked the company to suggest ways that the country can balance the free flow of information with the privacy rights of citizens. The German government will take those recommendations into consideration when revamping (read: strengthening) Germany's privacy laws later this year.
Google is cautiously optimistic about the dialogue, but as the company said in a prepared statement, "Any future legislation must make sure that in addition to the requirements of data protection, the development of innovative business opportunities and modern technology are allowed to flourish." The company is hoping to avoid the same privacy-based legal problems it's encountered in other corners of the EU, like Italy and Spain. The Czech Republic went so far as to ban Street View altogether.
It's easy to laugh at such countries for being wary of technology that many of us have already embraced. (Although we can sympathize with the privacy concerns of Germans, many of whom lived for decades under pervasive secret police surveillance.) But on the flip side, Germany's concerns raise important questions for us -- namely, in a world of constant connectivity, geolocation, and an ever-shrinking bubble of personal space, did we give away our privacy too easily?