By KEVIN J. O’BRIEN
BERLIN — Google on Thursday said 244,000 people in Germany had asked the company to remove images of their houses and apartments from its Street View maps, but that the requests would not derail its plans to activate the service this year. The figure was in line with what German data protection officials had previously estimated. The officials predicted that several hundred thousand people would opt out.
In a blog posting on its Web site, Google said 2.9 percent of the 8.5 million households in Germany’s 20 largest cities had opted out of the service. “This shows that 97 percent of German households have no problem with Street View,” said Kay Oberbeck, a Google spokesman in Hamburg. “We have gone out of our way to make sure everyone’s concerns have been addressed.”
Mr. Oberbeck said Google had hired 200 people in Hamburg and Munich to validate and process the requests before Street View is activated. In addition to adjusting the photographic database, Google has sent residents requesting the removal their houses unique PIN numbers by postal mail in an effort to verify the veracity of each request. Google has been working to make amends with privacy regulators in Germany over Street View, and over personal data that Google inadvertently obtained off unencrypted Wi-Fi routers while collecting information for the service.
Google agreed with the government last year to let Germans opt out of the service after data protection officials in the northern states of Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg protested the compiling of photographs of German homes. Under its pact with German data protection officials, Google is blurring the image of entire apartment buildings even if just one apartment resident has requested to be removed from the archive. In cases in which entire apartment buildings are blurred, Mr. Oberbeck said that Google would keep ground-floor businesses visible, unless proprietors requested otherwise.
The concessions were the first time Google had allowed residents of any country to opt out of Street View before the service is up and running. Residents in other countries can e-mail Google to request their homes be removed, but only once Street View is active. Street View will be available in 32 countries, including 10 in Europe. Mr. Oberbeck said that while Google still intended to go live with Street View this year, the company did not know exactly when that would happen.
Google is working with several governments in Europe to settle investigations into the company’s collection of personal data via Wi-Fi routers. Canada on Tuesday also said the company had violated its privacy laws by obtaining personal data from Wi-Fi routers during a Street View sweep. Google said the violation was the result of a “careless error.”
Google has consistently blamed human error for the collection of such data. After initially balking, Google in September gave German data officials a copy of the data it had mistakenly collected there. German data officials say they are evaluating the data Google provided. The company faces both an administrative inquiry and a criminal investigation in Hamburg.