• 11.13.09

Google Forced to Duke It Out with Swiss Authorities

Poor the Google. Just when it thought it was safe to wheel out those trikes from the GoogleBunker, having won a privacy invasion case against Mr. and Mrs. Boring of Pittsburgh (I kid you not) then someone else starts having a go at them.

Hanspeter Thuer, Switzerland’s data protection commissioner, announced today that he’s taking Larry and Sergey (and all their shareholders) to the country’s Federal Administrative Tribunal for failing to apply the changes that he had recommended to Street View.


A vociferous and continuous complainer about the service, Thuer says that images of faces and car number plates have not been sufficiently masked, despite him, yes, continuously and vociferously complaining. He is especially concerned about sensitive locations, such as outside hospitals, prisons or schools.

There are also problems, continues Thuer, about the height of the cameras that Google uses. “People see more on Street View than can be seen by a normal passer-by in the street. Privacy in enclosed areas (gardens, yards) is no longer guaranteed.” In its defense, Google stands by its blurring technology. The company is, it said in a statement, “absolutely convinced that Swiss View is legal in Switzerland.”

Google’s response to the Google vs. Boring case (Mr. and Mrs. B. had sought $25,000, claiming “mental suffering”) in Pennsylvania was rather haughty. “Today’s satellite-image technology means that… complete privacy does not exist,” they stated. True, but such arrogance never goes down so well–even somewhere like high-peaked Switzerland.

I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that the Alpine dwellers of Europe may win this one–even against a tech leviathan such as Google. The Swiss are frantic burgermeisters when it comes to privacy–just remember how much it took to get the Swiss to start unpeeling the layers of its uber-secretive banking system. However, let us hope that the Google boys just edge it. Any country that doesn’t allow its womenfolk to vote until 1971 has just got it coming to them.


About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S.