Google’s Streetview victorious in European Courts

March 21, 2011, 10:36 PM UTC

Deemed legal in Germany, and gets off with a small fine for ‘spying’ in France.

Steetview car

A German court has ruled that Google (GOOG) Steetview is  legal.  A German woman had sued the Mountain View,  California company stating that she fear that photos of her, her family and the front of her house would be posted on Google Street View and would thus violate her property and privacy rights.

The court ruled that it is legal to take photographs from street level, rejecting her argument that Google was trying to take unauthorized pictures. Part of her argument rested on the fact that Google used cameras mounted at three meters (9.84 feet) high, which could see over her two-meter-high hedge.

However, the court did not find this argument convincing, given that the photographs were taken from the street, and not the sidewalk. Furthermore, because Google automatically blurs faces and license plates and did allow Germans to opt-out of the service to have their house obfuscated as well, the court did not find any potential violations.

So far, 244,000 Germans, or less than 3% of the properties mapped have opted out.  Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she would agree to let her residence be photographed.

While property rights may have been deemed outside of the legal bounds of Steetview, officials warned Google could still be sued for breeching data protection standards…which brings us to France…

Crossing the Rhine, Google today was fined €100,000 or about $140,000 for illegally collecting data with its Streetview cars and bikes.  Clearly that isn’t going make a dent in Google’s war chest.

France’s Commision Nationale de l’information et des libertes asked Google to stop gathering information in May of last year, resulting in the fine.

“We are profoundly sorry for having mistakenly collected payload data from unencrypted WiFi networks,” said Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy counsel said “As soon as we realized what had happened we stopped collecting all WiFi data from our Street View cars and immediately informed the authorities.”

What’s interesting is that Android devices that everyone is carrying around now give Google that same information (as does Apple with its iPhone and Microsoft with Bing)