If you can't kill it, bill it: German city charges Google Street View by the kilometre

[Germany] We Germans are very picky when it comes to online privacy. Not only is Google Analytics in danger of being banned for storing user data on ‘foreign servers’, Facebook apps are probably illegal because they pass too much private information to third parties. Also Google Street View is a constant bone of contention. Several mayors of cities and villages like Molfsee or Pfaffenhofen have already tried to ban Google’s camera cars from their streets, until someone told them there was no law against driving around taking pictures.

A study from Ingolstadt even recommends installing specific Street View prohibition signs on private properties. Although local politicians apparently don’t like it, they can’t make the photo service illegal. Every single house owner has to ask Google themselves to get their removed from Street View. A complete ban would violate article 12 of Germany’s constitution which protects the freedom of occupation.

Google Street View car

Therefore the city of Ratingen yesterday took an interesting decision: If you can’t kill it, then bill it. The finance committee ruled with 12 to 7 votes that Google has to pay €20 per kilometer to take pictures of the city. The head of Ratingen’s law department, Dirk Tratzig, had found out that a photographical capturing of the entire town is a “special usage” as defined in article 18 of the streets law of the province of Northrine Westfalia. Thus Google can be charged.

Ratingen’s streets consist of only 309 kilometers, so the fee is just €6,180 and quite easy to swallow for Google. But the city’s aim is not getting the money, but “to make it at least a little more uncomfortable” for Google, as city speaker Ulrike Elschenbroich put it. If other German cities follow the example, and maybe they impose higher fees, it could spell trouble – even for the Google.

Nuremberg is already considering similar charges for “special usage”.

The CIA World Factbook estimates that our country has 644,480 kilometers of roads. At €20 per kilometer, Google would have to pay €12,889,600 for Germany alone and the entire world would cost more than €640,000,000.