Google, Microsoft, Nokia and a number of other companies have formed an association to attempt to allay Germans' privacy concerns over mapping services.
The organisation, known as Verein Selbstregulierung Informationswirtschaft (roughly translated as the association for self-regulation in IT), counts companies like Deutsche Telekom, Google, Panolife, Deutsche Post, Microsoft, Nokia and Encourage Directories among its members. Last week, the association launched a website where individuals can have their homes, their licence plates or themselves removed from a variety of mapping services that feature German locations, such as Google Street View or Nokia Maps, in one go.
Users who are concerned that their premises, cars or they themselves have been photographed for mapping services can now visit the Geodatendienstekodex.de website and complain about the use of the images.
The companies will then check the complaint and blur the offending pictures, or appropriate parts of them. The new website also helps people to find out whether photographs of their property have been taken by one of the associations' members.
The new service is part of a commitment voluntarily signed by the companies in the wake of Google and others' decision to start mapping services in Germany. After the launch of Street View in the country, German citizens and politicians spoke out against the service, raising a series of privacy questions (it didn't really help that Google got caught collecting Wi-Fi payload data, too).
Instead of passing a new law to address such concerns, the companies set out to find a solution involving self-regulation. "The companies' self-governance is the right way to go," president of Germany IT association Bitkom, Dieter Kempf, said. "We don't need a new law for every online service."
Companies are holding back on launching or updating services in Germany, according to Kempf – thanks in part to excessive criticism and fear of a reopening discussions about the privacy implications. "It is sad that innovative and widely used services are being slowed down in Germany," Kempf added.