Thursday, May 15, 2008

EU agency is 'confident' Google Maps will alter Street View

Google's all-seeing eye may bother US citizens, but the search company faces repeated difficulty even getting its technology adopted by other nations. This time, the European Union is skeptical about Street View.

Though a development in Google Street View identity obfuscation was announced only this week, the European Union's data protection agency is still hesitant to let Google's ominous-sounding Street View vans comb European streets.

Google has seen ongoing trouble in the EU on several fronts. Last year, the European Commission formally questioned Google over its data retention policy, seeing that it could possibly violate privacy laws. The unofficial final version of the EC's Article 29 Working Party recommendations for European data protection vis-a-vis search engines was published last month (PDF available here). There, it says there is no need to retain personal data for longer than six months; Google holds on to its search results for 18.

In a speech at the Data Protection Conference in Berlin earlier this month, European Union Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx said, "Our society is becoming increasingly dependent upon the widespread use of information technology and some even argue that we are moving in the direction of a 'surveillance society.'

"If that is true, it would not mean, in my view, that data protection is becoming less relevant, but the opposite, that it is becoming more and more relevant, Hustinx continued, "also that it is more and more important that data protection is working well in order to safeguard the fundamental values of our society."

This vigilance that Hustinx referred to is the source of Google's difficulty in the EU. Where one advocacy group found that US citizens waive many (if not most) of their data privacy rights, those in other countries expect a bit less intrusion.

However, when the improved face-recognition software running in Google's Street View is rolled out in New York, the project may have a future in the EU after all.

Hustinx noted today in a news conference that blossoming technology presents the ability to deliver different modes of the service, and that he was confident Google would observe EU law in the future.

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