Money Matters - Simplified

Google threatens to shut down Street View service in Switzerland

Last month, the Swiss Federal Administrative Court in Bern decreed that Google must blur faces and license plates of vehicles before publishing them on the internet. The court ruled that Google must ensure that all people and cars pictured on Street View are 100 percent unrecognizable.

Internet search and tech giant Google is threatening to shut down its Street View mapping service in Switzerland unless the supreme court of that country overturns a ruling requiring the company to guarantee absolute anonymity of faces and cars pictured on Street View imagery.

Google’s Street View service, featured in Google Maps and Google Earth, provides panoramic views from various positions along many streets in cities and towns across 27 countries.

Privacy issues
Google’s this feature has drawn criticism from privacy advocates, who say the technology breaches the privacy of people. They say Google’s 360-degree cameras set on cars infringe privacy of people by peering over fences, hedges, and walls.

Several countries, including Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Finland, and the Netherlands, have also raised privacy concerns about Google’s Street View service.

Google’s Street View service, featured in Google Maps and Google Earth, provides panoramic views from various positions along many streets in cities and towns across 27 countries.

Swiss watchdog took Google to court
While the issue was resolved by Google in other countries by making small changes, the Swiss data protection watchdog took the US search giant to court over privacy violations in 2009.

In November that year, Swiss federal data protection and information commissioner, Hanspeter Thür, filed a motion in the court to stop Google from carrying on with its photography for the Street View service. The motion was filed after complaining on several occasions that the service's coverage of Switzerland ignored privacy rules.

Swiss Tribunal ruled to keep faces, license plates totally blurred
Last month, the Swiss Federal Administrative Court in Bern decreed that Google must blur faces and license plates of vehicles before publishing them on the internet. The court ruled that Google must ensure that all people and cars pictured on Street View are 100 percent unrecognizable.

The court also ordered the tech giant, which has its European headquarters located in Zurich, to blur any characteristic that would make a person identifiable (skin color, clothing, and more) from the “sensitive establishments,” such as women’s shelters, orphanages, schools, hospitals, retirement homes, courts, and prisons.

Google threatens to pull Street View from Switzerland
Now on Wednesday, Google said that it will appeal to Switzerland's highest court against this ruling.

"In the interest of Internet users and Swiss companies, Google will lodge an appeal ...before the Federal Tribunal so that Street View can still be offered in Switzerland," the firm said in a statement.

Google’s global privacy counsel, Peter Fleischer, said the court’s demands were just not acceptable, and unless the ruling could be reversed by the Swiss supreme court, Google would be unable to operate Street View in that country.

"Ninety-nine percent of people are not identifiable," Fleischer said. "The decision of the Federal Administrative Tribunal requires us to guarantee that 100 percent of faces and licence plate are not identifiable. We simply cannot comply with that.”

Now, if the Swiss Supreme Court doesn’t reverse the ruling, and the Mountain View, California-based Google goes ahead with the threat, it will mark a historical moment in the history of the company and its street viewing service, making it for the first time that a whole country is “deleted” from the face of Street View.

If Google shuts down its Swiss Street View, it would affect some 1,000 Swiss websites, which use the service to provide tourist information and real estate listings.