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Google Bends To German Privacy Concerns

Google Inc. said Thursday it would double the amount of time Germans have to opt out of having their homes shown in its "Street View" feature, which has sparked a fierce public debate over privacy concerns.

Germans will now have eight weeks, instead of four, to request images of their homes be deleted, Philipp Schindler, Google's vice president for Northern and Central Europe said in a statement.

Google last week announced its plan to introduce "Street View" for the 20 biggest German later this year, raising concerns in this privacy-conscious country.

"We were aware of the fact that 'Street View' could lead to discussions in Germany," Schindler said.

He stressed that Google has committed itself to an extensive series of measures to protect people's privacy, "far beyond those in other countries."

At authorities' insistence, the company created an online tool Germans can use to request pictures of their homes be removed before the service's launch - something Google hasn't done anywhere else. "Street View" is currently available in 23 countries.

Many officials and politicians pressured the company to extend the deadline for people to opt out.

Germany's justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger welcomed the move, saying in a statement that "it is good that Google has doubled the time for objections to restore lost trust."

The online tool launched Monday and will now be available throughout October 15. Google Germany spokeswoman Lena Wagner said the extension will not delay the launch of "Street View", tentatively planned for November.

Wagner declined to say how many people had already asked to have their house removed from the database. Germany's consumer protection ministry expects tens of thousands to request that images of their homes be deleted.

The Mountain View, California, company also addressed another demand of German data protection officials by saying that data would be handled securely and deleted as soon as legally possible. Google also conceded to allowing officials to carry out inspections to ensure appropriate handling of the data.

"Street View" has also tangled with authorities in other European countries, including Austria and Spain, over privacy concerns.

The U.S. Internet giant lost the trust of many when it had to acknowledge this spring that technology used by its "Street View" cars had also vacuumed up fragments of people's online activities broadcast over public Wi-Fi networks for the past four years.

Google is facing legal inquiries in Spain and South Korea on suspicion the search company illegally gathering personal data while photographing city streets.