Google Street Views Put On Hold Amid Privacy Concerns

Dennis Faas's picture

Google is once again at the center of controversy in Europe over the use of its technology in regard to privacy rights. Recent claims were made by German officials that the tech company is scanning for private wireless networks and recording the details through the use of its Street View service.

According to Germany's federal data protection commissioner Peter Schaar, Google has been collecting MAC (Media Access Control) addresses of private citizens for some time now. A MAC address refers to a specific network adaptor -- and in this case, individual wireless routers.

Schaar said that he was a appalled at Google's actions and called upon Google to promptly delete any unlawfully collected personal data of wireless networks and to halt stop the rides for Street View. (Source:

It appears that Google vehicles have been scanning for wireless networks over the past two years, carrying out the scanning at the same time as taking photographs of local buildings for Street View, which shows buildings vertically rather than from above.

Google's Motivation Questioned

Originally, it appeared this scanning was simply an efficient way of building a database of publicly accessible wireless networks. That could be used both to provide users with information about where they can get online and to provide navigation tools to handheld device owners which will still work when they aren't using GPS or a cellphone network. Now it appears the scanning has also covered private networks.

Google has not directly addressed the allegations, though it has recently published a blog post about the importance of using nearby WiFi to provide location details for mobile users. (Source:

Legal But Concerning

The problem is Google's sheer size and influence. It means people are more suspicious of such activity and sparks further fears that gathering the MAC addresses could make it easier to identify the physical location and real identities of website users.

This isn't the first time that Street View has prompted concern from officials in Europe. Previously, Article 29, a group consisting of data protection officers from European Union member countries, asked Google to take stronger measures towards protecting privacy by blurring faces and license plate numbers.

As of last Friday, Google has agreed to put Germany's Street View project on hold. (Source:

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