Swiss Privacy Czar Takes Google To Court Over Street View

November 16, 2009 0

Geneva, Switzerland — Last week, the Swiss Data Protection and Information Commissioner, Hanspeter Thuer, said in a statement that he was pulling web search giant Google to the Federal Administrative Court over the search engine’s refusal to implement privacy measures of the people/places in its “Street View” service.

The Street View application that allows users to take a 360-degree ground level panoramic view of any street-level locations on Google Maps, based on still photographs taken by specially-equipped vehicles.

The Swiss data protection commissioner had several times expressed its disapproval since the service was introduced in Switzerland this year that many images of faces and vehicle number plates were still easily identifiable and insufficiently blurred.

“Numerous faces and vehicle number plates are not made sufficiently unrecognizable,” said Thuer.

The data protection commissioner had suggested many options in September after initially asking Google to withdraw the service while changes were made.

However, Google in a written response on October 14 declined to comply with the said requests, stating that blurring of faces was no more adequate to conceal the identities primarily due to the website’s zoom function, which enables the Street View user to isolate and enlarge images of individuals on the screen.

Google has asserted on the effectiveness of its blurring technology and stated that it was “absolutely convinced that Swiss View is legal in Switzerland.”

Google’s “Street View” is created by still photographs taken by these specially-equipped vehicles.

Thuer has especially expressed concerned about people moving around sensitive locations such as hospitals, prisons or schools.

“We are disappointed that Herr Thur has changed his position on Street View after launch, and that he has not considered our proposals for further improvements to the product,” Google said in a statement. “We will vigorously defend Street View in court and we are committed to continue bringing the benefits of this product to Swiss users.”

Switzerland is not the only country taking the Internet leader to court, Google is once again facing issues with its Street View service. It seems that every time the service opens up in another country the same discussion pops up with officials worried about privacy. It came up in Germany, in Greece, in Japan and the UK, and so on. Now, Switzerland is saying its piece, with the same arguments we have heard before and to which Google has responded several times.

Besides, the height from which the camera on top of the Google vehicle records is also problematic. It provides a view over fences, hedges and walls, with the result that people see more on Street View than can be seen by a normal passerby in the street.

“This means that privacy in enclosed areas (gardens, yards) is no longer guaranteed,” Thur said.

“For these reasons, the FDPIC (commissioner) has decided to take the matter further and to take legal action before the Federal Administrative Court,” Thur added.

Google Street View is a feature of Google Maps and Google Earth that provides a vertical panoramic view of many cities around the world.

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