Google on German charm offensive

2010-09-09 11:43

Berlin – The head of Google Eric Schmidt said on Thursday he understood why Germans were uneasy about the company's Street View service for historical reasons, as he began a charm offensive aimed at assuaging their concerns.

"I can understand the worries very well," Schmidt told mass circulation daily Bild.

"But we firmly believe that Germans will love Street View and will be convinced after they have used it," he added.

Privacy campaigners in Germany cried foul after Google announced the introduction of Street View, which allows users to view online panoramic still photos at street level taken using specially equipped vehicles.

Germany is especially sensitive to privacy issues owing to grievous abuses by the Nazis and East German communists in the past, and it has some of the world's toughest laws on data protection.

Assuage fears

But in interviews in Bild, Germany's most-read paper, and the influential Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Schmidt sought to assuage the fears.

"I visited East and West Berlin before the Wall fell. I know what many Germans had to go through and I have the greatest respect for the fact that your privacy is so important because of your historical experiences."

Google aims to roll out Street View for the 20 biggest German cities by the end of the year, meaning Germany will join the list of 23 countries featured on the service.

Uniquely for Germany, the Internet giant launched a campaign giving citizens concerned about safety or privacy four weeks to tell the company to have pictures of their homes or businesses pixelated out before they are published.

But after critics complained that the deadline was too short, the company offered to double the reply period to eight weeks, running out on October 15..