To recap: In 2009, Google came under fire for its Street View product, where the online services giant photographed homes and other buildings in numerous countries as part of its online mapping service, as individuals said the photos invaded their privacy. Then, in 2010, Google announced that, for more than three years — in more than 30 countries — it had been “mistakenly collecting” personal data from open WiFi networks as its vehicles roamed the streets taking photos for its Street View mapping service. Later, the company admitted the data collected — without individuals’ knowledge or consent — included entire e-mails and passwords. And it was revealed that “Google also recorded the street addresses and unique identifiers of computers and other devices using those wireless networks and then made the data available through Google.com.” The online services giant faced questions from states, and Google reached a settlement with Connecticut over the data collection. In October 2010, the Federal Trade Commission announced that (pdf) it had closed an investigation into possible privacy breaches by Google’s Street View after the company pledged to stop gathering consumers’ e-mail, passwords and other personal data.
In April, the Federal Communications Commission decided (redacted pdf) that it would not take enforcement action against the company over this data collection and retention, but it would fine Google for impeding the agency’s investigation into the private data collected and retained via its Street View product. However, after the FCC’s ruling, Google released a less-redacted report than the one released by the FCC, and this version raised questions. Google has said that the data collection was a mistake by a single engineer and that the company never authorized the gathering of the personal data. But, information in the FCC report that revealed Engineer Doe told other Google employees about the personal data collection in 2006 has raised questions with privacy and data protection officials in Britain, Germany and France.
In April 2011, a lower court in Switzerland ruled that “Google must guarantee anonymity in its popular street view service, blurring faces and license plates captured in Switzerland. The court largely sided with the Swiss data protection commissioner, Hanspeter Thür, who claimed that Google was breaching citizens’ right to personal privacy.” Google appealed the ruling, and the Swiss Supreme Court has ruled on the privacy issues, reports the Associated Press:
The Internet giant has won a partial repeal of a lower court decision that required the company to guarantee absolute anonymity for people pictured in its popular Street View service.
“It must be accepted that up to a maximum of 1% of the images uploaded are insufficiently anonymized,” the Swiss Federal Tribunal said in a statement Friday.
The court said Google still has to make it easy for people to have their images manually blurred, and must ensure total anonymity in sensitive areas such as schools, hospitals, women’s shelters and courts, where skin color and clothing must also be obscured.
The Lausanne-based tribunal additionally upheld part of the Federal Administrative Court’s ruling last year that Google must stop automatically publishing pictures of private gardens and courtyards taken with cameras positioned higher than 2 meters (6 ½ feet). […]
Switzerland’s privacy watchdog had wanted an absolute guarantee of anonymity in Street View, an online service that allows users to take virtual tours of cities and towns in dozens of countries around the world.
During a court hearing last year the data protection commissioner Hanspeter Thuer used a live version of Street View to demonstrate examples where the software failed to obscure faces of adults and children in public — including outside the court itself — and even peered into private homes.