Google At Loggerheads With Swiss Over Street View Images

Swiss privacy officials want Google to blur every face in Street View, even it’s by hand. Google typically does facial blurring with automation and says that process works in 99 percent of cases. However there’s that pesky 1 percent of cases where that doesn’t fully obscure people in the photographs.

Now the Swiss are telling Google that the company should manually review all Street View images taken in Switzerland or “take the service offline,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Swiss have very strict privacy rules (obviously). Currently Google is prevented by court order from updating Street View until the dispute is resolved. Street View has been online in Switzerland since 2009 and from the beginning Swiss privacy regulators have been critical of the service.

The Journal article reports that in Germany, which also has strict privacy laws, about 200,000 German households opted out of Street View in advance of its launch. It’s not clear whether that option was available in Switzerland prior to Street View’s launch in the country.

Now privacy regulators want the Swiss Federal Administrative Court to compel Google to manually review faces or shut down Street View. Google has told regulators that such a manual-review process would be prohibitively expensive.

Claims of “prohibitive costs” are likely to fall on deaf ears among Europeans who see a company that grossed $29 billion last year and has seemingly limitless financial resources. Google also complained that other, similar services are being allowed to operate in Switzerland without the same requirements and burdens. Indeed, there appears to be more than just a little anti-Google sentiment fueling privacy enforcement in Switzerland.

Yet Switzerland is just the latest country in Europe to give Google headaches and legal trouble around privacy and Street View in particular. As one EU minister previously remarked the often uneven, country by country treatment that Google is receiving with Street View illustrates the need for uniform privacy standards and policies across Europe.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Google: Critics | Google: Legal | Google: Maps & Local | Google: Outside US | Google: Street View


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Ian Williams

    Maybe we should have uniform privacy rules throughout Europe, but as a Brit this would absolutely do my head in.

    I’m quite happy for some random person somewhere in the world to see me – shock horror! – walking down a street, if it allows me all the useful features of Street View.

    How is this specific instance any more an invasion of privacy than someone looking at me in the street?

  • Greg Sterling

    You’re of course right and the Swiss, I believe, are being somewhat unreasonable.

  • Ian Williams

    It is interesting. In the UK, our Data Protection Act 98 makes a photograph personal information which must be treated accordingly by “data controllers” (in this case, Google, even though this information was not voluntarily submitted).

    But for my money trying to tackle the constantly evolving world of the web in 2011 with outdated legislation and mindsets is pretty shortsighted and will cause more problems than benefits for the everyday person.

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