Switzerland kills Street View

August 29, 2009 at 2:00 am 4 comments

I’m loving the Swiss. The Swiss Federal Data Protection and Information Commish to be exact. His name is Hans-Peter Thür and he has accused Google of not protecting the privacy of Swiss citizens. Quelle horror! I can’t believe that – Google not respecting privacy?!!

Regular readers know that I have an aversion to Google Street View. Yes, it can be very useful to look up the restaurant you’re off to for dinner or voyeuristically scan your neighbour’s backyards, but as we know, it can catch someone at an embarrassing moment and criminals are increasingly using Street View. No stretch of the imagination to think that crims can use it to scan roads in a neighbourhood, checking cars, backyards for signs of easy access, checking out whether there’s a Rottweiller in the yard that might cause problems and so on.

Greece, Japan and Germany have raised concerns about Street View and you may have read about angry citizens in Buckinghamshire, UK surrounding one of those stupid cars with intrusive 360-degree camera on the roof (police had to be called but unfortunately the Google car got away unharmed).

And the Swiss watch dog has now demanded that Google withdraw Street View from the country, one week after its launch. Thür has banned Google because he considered that faces and vehicle numbers were not sufficiently blurred. Google responded by saying that since launching in Switzerland there has been an 80% increase in maps usage, proving how popular their tool is. Well of course it is: people like to play with new stuff but once people realise how hard it is to request your face be blurred or the hoops you have to go through to get your image withdrawn from Street View – well, let’s see if people like it so much then. Clearly, any country that allows secret squirrel bank accounts like Switzerland is likely to be a country that jealously guards its privacy.

I can assure Google that if ever I spot one of those sinister looking cars with the Orwellian looking camera (or a Google Trike – yep, they get round on bikes too), the driver had better run.

Seriously, whilst we all enjoy Google this and Google that – stop for just ONE moment to think about these questions:

  • does Google hold too much power and influence over the Web and more particularly its future?
  • are you at all worried about the possibly that Google may have secured a virtual monopoly over literature?
  • are you at all concerned that Google is helping China to censor search results and is a willing part of the Great Firewall of  China? So if someone in China searches “Tiananmen Square protests” or “Falun Gong”, they would find nothing, zippo.
  • should we have anti-trust concerns about Google, particularly the close relationship between Apple and Google?
  • have you thought about how much we rely on Google? if Google disappeared overnight, whoosh, what other search engine would you use, would you be at a loss without Google Maps or Street View?  If you think you’d be like a deer caught in the traffic lights – then perhaps we are allowing Google to influence and control our online experiences too much.

Entry filed under: Google. Tags: , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jan  |  August 29, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Would you please provide a source for this information: “criminals are increasingly using Street View”? Other people’s blogs don’t count. Incidentally, criminals use phones, computers, satellite photos, knives and automobiles to carry out crimes, too. Perhaps we should just ban all of those.

    The number of people embarrassed by being caught on film is negligible; besides, they could be caught by other mapping services, as well as home photos posted on Flickr, professional photos posted on 360cities.net (no face blurring there – why not?), and the local news team. Bottom line: you go out in public, you chance getting caught on camera.

    As of this moment, Switzerland Street View isn’t dead.

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  August 31, 2009 at 1:06 am

    according to everything I have read and what has been reported – Street View has been banned (for the moment) from Switzerland because (so far) Google has not complied with Switzerland’s requests to protect privacy. Please provide a reference that states otherwise.

    As to your other question, see these references for a start:

    * Digital Criminal Report http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/LGEN/711603193x0x314247/f6b2ccd3-9b53-485d-8558-2c65923767d9/DigitalCriminal.pdf

    * http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/india-news/google-street-view-may-become-a-burglars-paradise_10070671.html

    The point is that Street View is an enormously powerful visual tool that can be used by criminals, which doesn’t compare with phones, knives or cars. I would have thought that was obvious.

    And you are missing the important point – when you say “bottom line: you go out in public, you chance getting caught on camera”. That is BECAUSE the definition of public space and one’s expectation of privacy has been increasingly redrawn in recent years. Before intrusive technologies, such as Street View, there was a pretty clear demarcation between private and public space and one’s expectation of privacy IN public space.

  • 3. Swiss  |  October 8, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    Street view is working just fine there as of today. The information streeview gives is no worse than someone driving down a road, if someone wants to rob a house, they’re going to rob a house.

  • 4. thinkingshift  |  October 8, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    How unfortunate…I don’t agree with you but you are of course entitled to your opinion. I continue to state it’s an encroachment on one’s expectation of privacy. I think that StreetView combined with Google Maps and Google Earth can give someone an extremely good view of a house, its surrounds and backyard for example. Criminals will use any tool available that gives them an advantage, so why not use Google? I used all 3 the other day to simply check out if I could see details of my own home and back yard – sure could. But the issue for me is more about intrusion on privacy and the shrinking of public space.


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