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Google Maps' Street View under Swiss scrutiny

November 13, 2009 |  6:32 pm

Internet search giant Google is facing court action in Switzerland because it isn’t meeting the country’s demands for tighter privacy protection with its Google Maps' Street View service, according to a Swiss government official.

 

Hanspeter Thuer, data protection commissioner, announced today in a statement that he plans to bring a suit against Google in the Federal Administrative Tribunal, according to an Agence France Presse report.

Thuer said Google rejected many of his recommendations after it went online in August.

Street View is a feature that lets users pick a point on a map and see a panoramic street-level image of the surroundings. By adjusting the location of the point, a user can take a virtual walk down the street. Google constructs the images from panoramic photos taken by cars it has equipped with cameras.

Faces had not been sufficiently blurred, and people were concerned about being shown near "sensitive locations, for example outside hospitals, prisons or schools," he said.

Google argues that it provides measures to protect privacy by making it possible for people to contact Google and ask to have pictures of their property removed from Street View. The company also said it spoke with privacy regulators and gave them an opportunity to raise questions.

“We’re proud of the blurring technology we’ve developed for Street View, and are confident the product is completely legal, but we wanted to go the extra mile to address Herr Thuer’s concerns,” the company said in a blog post.

Google ran into a similar problem in the U.S. this year when a Pennsylvania couple took the company to court, saying the feature was an invasion of privacy. A judge threw out the case in February, siding with Google, which said "complete privacy does not exist" and argued that photos and building plans of the couple's home were already available to the public on local government websites.

In the blog post, Google indicated it planned to fight the Swiss case as well: “We will vigorously defend Street View in court and we’re committed to continue bringing the benefits to Swiss users.”

-- W.J. Hennigan

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