Germany doomed never to innovate ?

An interesting article by the BBC’s Berlin correspondent on Germany’s problem with Street View.

The Bradenberg Gate, or not..

The article suggests part of the reason why Germany seems to have such a problem accepting a service that is used in many other developed countries is a cultural distrust of the new, and an inability to innovate. The article quotes Prof Nicolas Apostolopoulos from the Centre for Digital Systems at the Free University in Berlin,

“..people in Britain or the United States tend to see the possibilities of new technology, while Germans tend to see the dangers.”

I’m not convinced this is the case completely, just look at the thriving geo-community in Berlin, and the love of OpenStreetMap in Germany, German cities in OpenStreetMap contain the most detailed mapping you are likely to see anywhere, and that mapping has been contributed by the same people who don’t want pictures of their buildings to appear online ?

An alternative view is that Street View has become a political football in Germany to a greater extent than any other country, and politicians and the media have jumped on the issue, as a way of getting noticed and filling column inches. Google bashing seems to be a popular activity amongst the chattering classes in Berlin..

I really don’t agree with the view that there is “a downside to innovation”,  tell that to the manufacturing industry in the UK. Clearly not all new ideas or products will work, indeed most will fail,  but to try and stop innovation is like trying to ignore gravity!

The voice that seems under represented so far are the potential users of street view in Germany..

Written and submitted from the Google Offices, London (51.495N, 0.146W)

7 comments

  1. Ed Freyfogle

    Hi Ed,

    I’m hardly unbiased as I’m a German citizen, but as you correctly point out rejection of Google hardly makes an enire nation (especially a nation that leads the world in exporting innovative products) “anti-innovative”.

    The reality is that

    a. Google is no longer everyone’s darling. This trend is visible around the world, but perhaps more so in Germany where foreign media companies have always had a very diffcult time against strong local players.

    b. people have legitimate privacy concerns about Google (and others). In this regard, keep in mind that dictatorship is a living memory in Germany. Privacy is a hard won freedom that many are not inclined to surrender to some cryptic algorithm run from the other side of the world.

    My experience is that it is not that Germans see danger in new technologies, it is that they are wary of new, non-German technologies, especially from companies that are so reserved in their communications and motives. Happy to come to Victoria and discuss, though obviously I’d first have to sign an NDA to get in the building – because you guys like your privacy.

    beste Grüße,
    Ed

  2. Ed

    Ed, thanks for your comments.. you will be pleased to know that you no longer need to agree to an NDA to get into the building, and there will be a Coffee and Cake waiting for you !

  3. Chris Faulkner

    Thanks for posting the link – I hadn’t realised that so many Germans had registered their opposition.

    Is the coffee and cake available for all ? :-)

  4. Andrew Zaborowski

    While, as you pointed out, the rejection of Google Street View is perhaps not directly beneficial to innovation, the political football works two ways. Media writes about Google as a way of getting noticed but who is most noticed is Google. It’s a great advertisement both for Google and the Street View service (which many people might not know about if they hadn’t read the newspapers columns). In the long run they will start to want the service and it may get more popular then it would have gotten if Google had just “introduced their service in country X”.

  5. David

    I think Ed has a valid point when he raises the issue of Google bashing. It is a simplistic comparison, given the many differences between the products, but I am unaware of, for instance, mass media hysteria in Germany (or any other country) about all the geo-tagged photographs on sites such as Flickr. Essentially, these are the same things, except of course that flickr doesn’t blur faces…

  6. davespod

    I know I’m not the first to comment on the irony that Germany is introducing ID cards with embedded RFID chips, which will be mandatory to carry in public, yet the privacy furore seems to relate to Google StreetView.

    http://uk.ibtimes.com/articles/44536/20100821/identity-cards-with-rfid-chip-on-track-in-germany.htm

    I know which one I’d be shouting about. If it’s true that GSV is a political football in Germany, is it perhaps a deliberate distraction?

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