Privacidade na Alemanha
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No pixels, please, we’re German
German privacy attitudes were not designed for a digital age
IF IN doubt, call a summit. On September 20th Thomas de Maizière, Germany’s interior minister, invited politicians, regulators and tech-company representatives to Berlin to discuss “geo-data services”—online technologies that identify the real-world location of individuals and their property. The meeting was an attempt to defuse a row that has rumbled since August, when Google announced it would launch its Street View service, an online mapping system that knits together photographs of streets and buildings, in Germany’s 20 largest cities by the end of the year.
Such was the scale of the outcry in this privacy-conscious country that Google granted a unique concession, allowing homeowners to request that images of their property be pixelated (the company automatically does this to the faces of individuals). Yet this wasn’t enough for some privacy advocates, who sought a blanket “opt-in” rule, meaning that Google would have to seek explicit permission from residents before publishing images of their property.
The Street View debate is just one skirmish in a wider confrontation that pits German concern for privacy rights, a powerful force in a country where folk memories of the Gestapo and Stasi are still strong, against the onward march of modern technology. The legislators who drafted the world’s first data-protection law in the state of Hesse in 1970 could not have seen it coming. The ability of individuals to publish large amounts of their own data online and the systematic collection of data by private companies create “a new challenge to data protection as we know it”, says Peter Schaar, the federal data-protection chief.
After the summit Mr de Maizière called on Google and other firms that publish geo-data to draw up, by December, a binding “data-protection charter” in line with Germany’s restrictive privacy laws, saying that this could forestall the need for further regulation.
This approach is in keeping with Mr de Maizière’s pragmatic line. He has previously warned of the dangers of knee-jerk regulation, fearing knock-on effects on unrelated areas such as private photography. By avoiding new laws, he has dodged the jurisdictional problem of regulating international internet firms—although with plans for a revised data-protection law, which will look at other aspects of online privacy, this approach may prove hard to maintain.
Yet attitudes have changed along with technology. Young Germans, like their counterparts elsewhere in the developed world, are more relaxed about sharing data online than their elders. Even as Ilse Aigner, Germany’s consumer minister, railed against Facebook’s privacy settings earlier this year, Germans were signing up at least as fast as other Europeans.
Although the debate is at its sharpest in Germany, tensions have surfaced elsewhere. Last week the Czech government banned Google from collecting Street View information, citing data-processing concerns. Authorities in Italy this week barred Google’s Street View cars from picking up stray wi-fi data. Not all information, it seems, wants to be free.