While browsing reddit this afternoon, I stumbled upon this post and this reminded me of a post I'd been trying to write for a while now, but wasn't sure how to approach it. Now given the recent NSA leaks from Mr. Edward Snowden and the new debate about privacy on the Internet that he has started, I think now would be a good time to talk about this with a focus on Austria. As you can see in the title image for this post that I took from the reddit thread (more information about current Street View coverage can be found here), just about all of Europe is covered with the exception of Germany and Austria (sans major metropoles, although I've never found a single instance of Street View working in Vienna). Why is this? Well after the whole snafu that revealed Google was capturing wifi data and even emails (though this was all information being sent across unencrypted networks), the Austrian Data Protection Commission (Datenschutzkommission) banned Street View in the country in May 2010. The ban was lifted after less than a year but required that Google provide Austrians with the option that Google blurs out their home as was done in Germany. Obviously this is an absolute headache, so for most of Germany Google just said "to hell with it" and the same story goes for Austria, despite the fact that Google already recorded a massive amount of data with their cars.
Clearly, Germans and Austrians take their privacy very seriously and in light of the recent revelations from the NSA, who can blame them. I would postulate, however, that they take things a bit too far. Given that Street View already blurs out license plates and faces, all identifying marks of a person or car captured by Street View are rendered unrecognizable. Obviously most people don't know this and some even think Street View and Google Maps is all real time (I'm not joking), so it's not terribly surprising, I suppose. It baffles me, however, that people freak out about something like this, but have no problem using unencrypted wireless networks, no problem with someone looking at them as they walk down the street, no problem with someone driving past and seeing their home, etc. The only difference here is the medium and the scale. I see absolutely no potential for abuse here, so I really don't understand the problem.
The same goes for street photography. If you stand on a sidewalk and make a picture of a group of people, there are definitely going to be some that give you weird looks or even try and hide their faces. It doesn't stop there, though. I've tried multiple times to ask strangers for their photos because I like the look that they have or what have you (I'm really going to give this whole 100 Strangers thing a try over the summer) and you can see the paranoia in their eyes. The worst part is that I usually always have my film camera with me and ask them for a shot with that and I've taken to even showing them the camera when I ask and explicitly mentioning it. Doesn't matter. They all have their tinfoil hats wrapped tightly around their heads.
Maybe it's a bizarre cultural thing. I remember joining Facebook and MySpace and such before anyone really knew what a social network was and when they were even laughed at in many cases. Hell, I can remember when it was called "THE Facebook" and had Zuckerberg's picture on the banner. Or perhaps I just lack the paranoia for day-to-day stuff and only care about keeping private what really needs to be private. Maybe. I don't know. It really bothers me, though, that Germans and Austrians are not more open about things. Maybe they can take a card from the German Swiss - they don't seem to be bothered by it.