Google’s street credibility

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

This article is part of our special report Data protection.

Google is once again under fire in the EU after several member states demanded more details about its 'Street View' service – a feature of Google's Maps service, which allows users to see live images of a given road and intersection, writes Andreas Geiger of Brussels lobbying firm Alber & Geiger.

Andreas Geiger is managing partner of Alber & Geiger, a Brussels-based lobby company and European government relations law firm.

"Questions have been raised in the corridors of Brussels as to whether Google's 'Street View' should be permitted to operate in its current form following the outrage about a lack of privacy control in several EU member states, when Google recently admitted to have collected samples of web users' personal data.

Possibly it was not the cleverest political behavior by Google either: waiting for the summer break of the German parliament – the largest EU member – and then send out their much-criticised camera cars without prior agreement. Imagine for a second what would have happened if they had behaved like that in the US.

Multiple investigations have, therefore, now been launched in Europe amid growing allegations that the application breaches EU privacy laws, not only by collecting personal data through Wi-Fi networks, but also over its storage of images over a long period of time, and with regard to the blurring technique it utilises to disguise the images it captures. Germany (guess why!), France, Spain and the Czech Republic are just a few countries to mention from an ever-increasing list of EU states that are filing complaints against Google's Maps service.

As in other probes versus Google, the European investigations are following similar inquiries to those launched in the United States in May 2010. Many US states grilled Google over its 'Street View' service and demanded a detailed explanation of the exact details, including the manner and timing of when the company first captured personal data. In addition, some 30 US states requested Google to make public the nature of the information that it had gathered.

Despite having a long history of data protection and arrangements in place that require a company to request a user's approval before using their data for commercial purposes, in the view of many, Europe needs an overhaul of the current arrangements. Looking at the activities of not only Google but also Facebook and Apple's patent application for the 'Spyphone', people in Europe become nervous.

Demands are growing that it should be immediately obvious when personal data processing constitutes a breach of EU privacy rules. 

To deal with the shortcomings of current EU law, the European Commission has made a commitment to review data-protection rules. The draft directive – expected to reach the Council and European Parliament this autumn – is believed to propose the harmonisation of diverging EU member states' rules for Google's 'Street View' and its competitors."

Subscribe to our newsletters