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Spymobiles to exit EU?

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A senior Google exec yesteday suggested that if the company doesn't get its way over Street View data retention, it may stop prowling the European Union's highways and byways.

Speaking to Bloomberg at CeBIT, where Street View has been charming Germans with a fleet of touchy-feely spymobiles, Google Earth founder Michael Jones bemoaned the EU's insistence that original, unblurred Street View images be stored for just six months, rather than 12.

Google has always maintained it needs to keep the pics on file to enable it to respond to privacy-related complaints from the the unwashed masses. However, the head of EU data protection agencies recently described a year as "disproportionate".

Alex Turk also demanded that Google "should always give advance notice on its website and in the local or national press before it takes pictures".

If the EU gets its way, Jones said, then Google "would consider whether we want to drive through Europe again, because it would make the expense so draining".

Jones insisted that the Great Satan of Mountain View can't cut storage times because it "can’t reprocess its data quicker because of software restraints".

He added: “I think that privacy is more important than technology but for privacy people it is only about privacy but for us it is also about technology. We have to be actually able to do what they want us to do. What we want is to have enough time.”

Quite what Google's threat would mean in practice is unclear. Presumably it wouldn't axe Street View across the EU, but rather simply not update or extend the service.

Street View isn't throwing in the towel just yet, though. Regarding Germany, where it has met a certain amount of resistance, Jones said: “I’m not going to quit on Germany. Privacy laws are respected and we give them a great deal of consideration, but I hope we will find a positive way to include Germany and the people of Germany.”

Concessions to the good burghers of Germany include the usual face and numberplate blurring, and a novel pre-launch opt-out service for citizens, which will enable them to request the removal of their property before the service goes live later this year.

Jones hinted at a reason why Google is pandering to the privacy-sensitive Germans, when it usually shoots first and arm-wrestles later: the country is the "number one user of Google Maps in Europe", he noted. ®

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