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Special cameras for Google Street View: More than just photos captured

Photo: imagebroker / IMAGO

If you look at German street panoramas on Google Maps, you often feel transported back in time: shops that have long since closed appear open, the traffic routing does not correspond to the current state, entire residential areas are missing. No wonder – the recordings are more than a decade old. Google now wants to remedy these deficiencies and is once again sending camera cars on German roads.

From June 22, vehicles of the group will make new recordings, as Google announced on Thursday. After that, the Street View service is expected to be gradually updated from mid-July, initially for the 20 cities for which it was previously available.

Botched start in Germany

Street View was introduced in Germany at the end of 2010. Here you can see photographic views of streets from Google's map service and move virtually through the cities click by click. The recordings were made in 2008 and 2009.

The fact that Germany was so poorly captured by Google's cameras was the result of a botched start. For example, the then Minister of Consumer Protection, Ilse Aigner (CSU), had campaigned for Google to be prohibited from using the photos. When it came out that Google's cars had also collected data from Internet connections as they drove by, the discussion turned upside down. There was a veritable flood of pixelation requests, Google did not update its offer as a result. The camera cars, which continued to drive through German roads, were used, for example, to capture road signs for navigation in Google Maps.

Competitors also held back until Apple unlocked its own offering in 2022 and outclassed Google. In this case, there was no wave of pixelation like Street View and now seems to have motivated Google to give its own offer a new chance.

Pixelation must be applied for again

If you want your house to be pixelated even after the update, you have to submit a new objection, the objections from 2010 no longer apply. This can be done by e-mail, via a web form or even by letter, as listed by the Hamburg Data Protection Authority. You can also use the "Report a problem" function in Google Maps. Faces and license plates are automatically pixelated in the road panorama services.

Over the years, more and more people and companies in Germany have asked Google "about the differences between the Street View images and the real world in which they live," according to a blog entry from Google.

There is still confusion about which recordings Google wants to use. According to Hamburg's data protection commissioner Thomas Fuchs, Google approached him in March to clarify legal issues surrounding the publication of new images. He emphasized that at the time of the recordings in 2022, the public had not been informed that they could also be used for Street View. According to Google, this was not intended at the time.

Fuchs had asked the company to inform about the amended plans. Google said it was carrying out the update in close coordination with Fuchs. He is responsible because Google has its German headquarters in Hamburg.