Friday, November 13, 2009 | 4:20 PM
Today we have learned that Swiss Data Protection Authority intends to take Google to court over Street View in Switzerland. We are disappointed. Data Protection Commissioner Herr Thuer has taken this move despite our efforts to provide a comprehensive set of solutions to his concerns.
We want to take this opportunity to outline the situation to date and to explain why we believe his legal action is unnecessary.
Before the launch in Switzerland, we made sure we spoke to privacy regulators and other interested groups to give them an opportunity to ask questions and raise any concerns they might have. We always do this before a launch because we know that different countries may have different expectations.
So we were pleased when the Swiss DPA gave us the green light to launch the product, confirming our understanding that Street View is legal under Swiss law. This pleasure turned to disappointment, however, when Herr Thuer changed his mind a few days after launch and sought to stop users from being able to enjoy exploring Swiss towns and cities on their computers.
We're proud of the blurring technology we've developed for Street View, and are confident the product is completely legal, but we wanted to go the extra mile to address Herr Thuer's concerns.
We proposed five concrete measures:
1. Improved license plate blurring. Swiss license plates are unique compared to other nearby countries - smaller and therefore harder to identify. So our engineers are focusing attention on our technology to deal better with these unique characteristics, and to improve the blurring of license plates in Switzerland.
2. Improved face blurring. A new version of our software for recognising and blurring faces has recently been released. We are fast tracking this upgrade into the Swiss product. Blurring technology has already reached a high standard--and with these improvements it should get even better.
3. Interest group dialogue. Aside from the DPA, we are willing to consult with other interested groups such as abortion clinics and women's refuges to hear their feedback and to answer any questions.
4. Monitoring sensitive areas. There are certain areas of a city that are particularly sensitive, and which could cause embarrassment to individuals photographed there. This is an issue we'll continue to take into account to ensure maximum user privacy.
5. Informing the public of Street View driving. One of the challenges we face with Street View is how best to let people know when our cars will be in their area. Bad weather, changes in traffic and other unplanned events often result in last minute changes of driving locations. However, we are working to provide more accurate information about where our cars are driving. You can currently track our progress here.
We are confident that the measures we have put in place are delivering improvements in both license plate and face blurring. And, as always, people who spot an image we might have missed can use the "report a problem" tool to let us know. These requests are dealt with quickly, usually within hours. Questions of data protection and privacy must be taken seriously, which is why we've put great effort into building sophisticated, easy to use tools for users. We believe that Street View offers a comprehensive set of protections for user privacy, and we continue to work on improving these tools. We are disappointed that Herr Thuer has changed his position on Street View after launch, and that he has not considered sufficient our proposals for improvements to the product.
We will vigorously defend Street View in court and we're committed to continue bringing the benefits to Swiss users.
Peter Fleischer, Global Privacy Counsel