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Google's Street View contested in France and Switzerland

26 August, 2009

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Googles Street View in Frankreich und der Schweiz angefochten

After being criticised and contested in several countries in Europe, such as UK, Germany and Greece and even outside Europe like in Japan, it is the turn of France and Switzerland to complain against Google's service Street View.

Several complaints have been recorded in France in 2009 against Street View service as recently indicated by the French Data Protection Authority - CNIL (Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés).

CNIL is keeping an eye of Google's system as the company has introduced in France this summer tricycles equipped with cameras to explore parks, walking streets and other less crowded areas. Despite the system introduced by Google to blur faces and other identification elements such as licence plates from the images taken by Street View cameras, the system is not 100% proof. For instance, profiles or faces through grills can still be visible and are not blurred. Besides, people are also asking for other elements to be blurred such as the access to private homes.

The French authority is also concerned about the delay in the data treatment and the retention of raw images. In June, Google committed in front of European Commission's Article 29 working party to improve this aspect and delete the raw images but not on a very short term and no precise period of time was given.

In Switzerland, less than one week after the launching of Street View, the authorities have already asked for the immediate interruption of the service under threat of taking the case to court as they consider that Google's blurring technology is not good enough.

"Numerous reports from the public and our own research show that Google Street View does not respect the conditions that were laid down. Many faces and car numbers have not been blurred, or only insufficiently so," stated Hans-Peter Thür, the Swiss data protection commissioner who asked Google to "improve the service and ensure that the images published meet Swiss legal requirements".

In its defence, Google admitted there were still some flaws in their technology: "Our face and license plate blurring software is very effective, but like any new technology it still makes mistakes now and then - occasionally blurring things that shouldn't be blurred, or missing some things that should."

Sébastien Fanti, a lawyer specialised in Internet issues, warns on the fact that all the data gathered by Google is available to US authorities as according to the USA Patriot Act, any US government agency has access to data collected anywhere in the world by US firms, even without a court order. "If the CIA asks to see what was going on in Zurich this spring, Google isn't going to provide blurred images," says Fanti.

Google's Switzerland spokesman Matthias Meyer admitted that the companies is collaborating with authorities but stated that "What we are putting on line are photos of the past. Once they've been taken they don't change, nothing is shown in real time."

This is far from being reassuring and as it can be seen people in many countries there are a lot of privacy concerns related to Street View service.

Google Street View feeds Cnil's complaints (only in French, 10.08.2009)

CNIL in the wheel of Street view tricycle (only in French, 7.08.2009)

Switzerland asks the interruption of Google Street View (only in French, 24.08.2009),39020774,39705022,00.htm

Europe asks for the suppression of the raw images by Google Street View (only in French, 16.06.2009),39020774,39504703,00.htm

Big Google is watching you - really? (only in French, 21.08.2009)

Street View privacy guarantees remain fuzzy (24.08.2009)

EDRi-gram: Privacy complaints related to Google's Street View (16.07.2009)



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