Switzerland’s highest court imposed some limitations on the kinds of images Google can take while upholding the company basic right to document residential street fronts with its Street View technology. Street View is an ambitious project to photograph the world’s streets. The Swiss ruling focused on the conditions for Street View cars to photograph the streets of the country.
Swiss regulators and Google both said they were happy with the ruling, which leaves the service legally intact in Switzerland. Google introduced Street View in Switzerland in 2009. The national regulator threw the future of Street View into question in 2010 by demanding that Google’s pixilation technology, used to blur certain images, work without error, 100% of the time.
The Swiss Federal Supreme Court said Google did not have to guarantee 100% blurring of the faces of pedestrians, vehicle license plates and other identifying markers captured by Google’s Street View cars. The court stated that 99% would be acceptable. Google claims that its technology is already capable of blurring faces and license plates 99% of the time.
Switzerland has some of the strictest privacy safeguards in the world. In Switzerland, privacy is so closely guarded that many residents do not list their names on their mailboxes. Additional conditions imposed by the court would require Google to lower the height of its Street View cameras so they would not peer over garden walls and hedges, to completely blur out sensitive facilities like women’s shelters, prisons, retirement homes and schools, and to advise communities in advance of scheduled tapings.
Worldwide controversy erupted when it was disclosed that the specially equipped Google Street View cars were collecting unencrypted Internet data from wireless networks as they passed by households. The information collected included snippets of e-mails, photographs, passwords, postings on Web sites, and other private information.
Google claims that the collection of private information was accidental and that the data was not intended for or used in any Google product. A recent Federal Communications Commission report did not agree and, in April, the F.C.C. fined Google $25,000 for obstructing an investigation into Street View.
In Europe, Google is facing an antitrust investigation on charges of dominating the Internet search market. The competition commissioner, Joaquín Almunia, said that Google will be given an early July deadline to come up with “concrete signs” of its willingness to offer “remedy proposals” and if the proposals “turn out to be unsatisfactory, formal proceedings will continue through the adoption of a statement of objections.” Google said it was working with the commission.