Google appeals Street View ruling
Geneva - Photographs of streets and houses in Switzerland could disappear from Google's maps unless the country's supreme court overturns a ruling requiring an absolute guarantee of anonymity for people pictured in its popular Street View service, the company said.
The internet search giant said it wants the Swiss Federal Tribunal to throw out a lower court decision in April that obliged Google to ensure all faces and vehicle license plates are blurred before uploading pictures to the service that provides panoramic tours of the world's streets.
The ruling by the Federal Administrative Court in Bern, following a complaint from the country's privacy watchdog, also ordered the company to obscure other identifying features, such as skin colour and clothing, from people photographed in the vicinity of "sensitive establishments", such as women's shelters, retirement homes, prisons, schools, courts and hospitals.
If Google fails at the higher court, it would be the first time that the company has permanently switched off Street View anywhere, though it has faced privacy concerns in many of the 27 countries where the service is available.
Switzerland's data protection commissioner, Hanspeter Thuer, had filed the complaint against Google after determining that the company's automatic face blurring software wasn't 100% accurate.
During a court hearing in February, 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 - and even inside private homes.
"We will try our very best to preserve Street View for Swiss users," said Patrick Warnking, Google's country manager for Switzerland.
"I want to say clearly and unequivocally that we take data protection seriously," he added. "We have already taken measures to protect the identity of individuals and vehicles in Street View. And we hope that this will be appropriately recognised in the appeals process."
Google has one of its biggest offices outside the US in Zurich, where hundreds of engineers develop new services for the company.
As part of a publicity drive earlier this year, it took its Street View cameras into the Alps to photograph the country's spectacular ski slopes.