Google Street View Infringes on Privacy, Say Swiss

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-04-05 Print this article Print

Switzerland's top administrative court supported the country's Federal Data Protection Commissioner Hanspeter Thuer in agreeing that Google Street View map service infringes on privacy.

Street View provides 360° horizontal and 290° vertical panoramic street-level views of 100-plus cities all over the world. The service has since May 2010 been vilified the world over for collecting 600GB of user passwords, browsing info and email via unsecured wireless networks.

Recall in November 2009 when Switzerland's Thuer first sued Google after Street View went online there, arguing that:

Numerous faces and vehicle number plates are not made sufficiently unrecognizable from the point of view of data protection, especially where the persons concerned are shown in sensitive locations, e.g., outside hospitals, prisons or schools.

He sued Google after it failed to comply with requests he made for the company to be more vigilant about protecting Swiss privacy. Now the Swiss court has ruled in Thuer's favor, ordering that Google must blur out the faces and license plates captured by Street View cameras. The court also noted Google's reticence to do this:

The claimants are discounting any breach of privacy rights of numerous individuals, in the interest of their commercial success. All privacy breaches could be avoided, but this would entail additional costs for the defendants, as they would have to make images (even more) unrecognisable in part manually. The additional costs would obviously not, however, jeopardise the commercial survival of the defendants.

Google Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer said Thuer's demands for faces to be manually blurred out were financially and logistically unfeasible. He noted: "We will evaluate the court ruling and investigate what this means for Street View in Switzerland and what possibilities of appeal we have."

Good luck with that. People are straight hating on Street View now, thanks to the WiSpy incident. I'm a tad surprised though because Switzerland's ruling comes two weeks after Germany ruled that Google Street View is legal.

The same Germany that has cried the loudest about Google's Street View privacy abuses, ensuring that Google allowed residents to opt out of Street View before the product launched.

Over 240,000 households in Germany have accepted Google's offer to shield their houses or apartment buildings from Street View.

One wonders, then, what the Swiss ruling will do for Street View all over the world, and whether it will carry over to other countries. The U.S. attorneys general have been particularly loud about Street View in the wake of WiSpy.

Will the AGs use the Swiss ruling as a template for their own machinations versus the company? I would imagine they would try to squeeze some fines out of the search engine, but as for outright privacy lawsuits, I'm not so sure.

People often like to settle out of court, getting paid to go away and shut up. I suppose it depends how egregious data collection has been in a state, and how Google reacts to that state's demands for redress. Connecticut seems to be simpatico with Google now. |

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