Google Runs Afoul of Swiss Dataprotection Laws

In a press release on Friday the Swiss Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC) has asked Google Inc. to either improve its anonymization or to remove StreetView for Switzerland from the Internet. If Google does not comply, the case will be brought to the Federal Administrative Court according to Mr. Thür.

From the FDPIC website:

Bern, 21.08.2009  – Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC)  Hanspeter Thür has asked Google Inc. auf, to remove the online-service Google Street View for Switzerland from the Internet. Several Tips from the population as well as his own investigation  have revealed that Google Street View was not abiding by the conditions the FDPIC set out earlier to protect the privacy of citizens  – several faces and licencense plates were not at all or only insufficiently anonymized. FDPIC asks Google, to improve the Product and to ensure, that the published pictures are in accordance with Swiss law. Beginning of next week Mr. Thür will discuss the details and their implementation with Google Inc.

Google did take pictures in Swiss cities some months ago and finally brought the service online on August 18, 2009. Obviously, it didn’t take long for a lot of people to complain to the FDPIC. A few of the pictures can be seen on Tagesanzeiger online (where they have not been properly anonymized either).

In the meantime some companies have weighed in and complained as well, as they don’t want their office buildings or the homes of their executives to appear on Google Street View.

I wonder how hard it is to de-anonymize those pictures that have been ‘anonymized’ by Google by using the right software it might just not be that hard. This makes me thing that a little more than a simple blurring of the faces, car plates or signs is needed to really anonymize the pictures.

Careful when carrying documents

Careful when carrying documents

I also wonder if the application of face recognition software would yield good results if you were searching for certain people online.
The mechanism by which you can complain to Google makes you give away even more information about yourself. Information that may just be stored somewhere along with the original picture.

A description in English of what the FDPIC can be found on the official website.