The Swiss data protection watchdog is taking Google to the country’s Federal Administrative Court over an alleged failure to protect people’s privacy on its Street View website, just two months after launching the popular service in Switzerland.
Hanspeter Thür, the Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner, said Google had not done enough to make faces and vehicle number plates unrecognisable on the service, which provides panoramic, street-level photos of cities and towns across the globe.
He has filed a motion seeking to freeze any expansion of Google’s activities under a temporary injunction. This would prevent Google from taking any further photography, but not require them to shut down the service entirely.
It is the first time that Google has faced a lawsuit from a government agency over Street View. Privacy regulators in a number of countries including Italy, Germany and Japan have raised concerns about the service, but Google has been able to negotiate measures that have reassured them.
In Japan, it agreed to lower the height of the cameras taking pictures of the streets by 40cm, in order to ensure they did not take images of people’s private gardens, while in Germany it agreed to erase the raw, identifiable photos of people and property from its system if individuals requested it.
Google also faced a private lawsuit in the US over the service which was ultimately dismissed.
Google met Swiss data protection authorities in the run-up to launching Street View in Switzerland in September, and was initially given the green light. Mr Thür later became critical of the service, however, saying that Google had failed to impose promised measures to improve privacy.
Mr Thür said Google had given the authority incomplete information.
“Google announced that it would primarily be filming urban centres, but then put comprehensive images of numerous towns and cities on the internet. In outlying districts, where there are far fewer people on the streets, the simple blurring of faces is no longer sufficient to conceal identities,” he said.
“We were very disappointed that the DPA has said he will take this to court,” said Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy counsel. “We believe this is unnecessary and that Street View is completely legal. We will contest any case vigorously.”
Google said the Street View service was very popular in Switzerland, with more than 80 per cent of users saying they found it useful. Fewer than 1 in 20,000 views had resulted in a request for additional blurring of faces or car licence plates, it added.
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