Advances in technology can be amazing. At the same time they can be threatening. Especially when they crash into existing cultural predispositions, as Google is finding out in Switzerland. Apparently, the Swiss (and a few other countries in Europe) are fond of their privacy. And, in their opinion, Google’s Street View poses a direct threat to that privacy.
The Swiss penchant for privacy is old news--who doesn’t know about the strict anonymity of Swiss banking laws? It’s not surprising, then, that the country’s federal data protection commissioner, Hanspeter Thuer, announced it would take Google to court unless it did a better job protecting the privacy of those it captured with its Street View cameras. In particular, Thuer wants better blurring of faces and license plates, and a lower camera view so that things not normally viewable from the street, such as walled gardens or private streets, would not be shown.
Google’s Matthais Meyer respond by saying “We believe that Google Street View is absolutely legal, also in Switzerland.” The company, he said, would “vigorously contest” the case.
This is not Google’s first run-in over privacy concerns. Japan has already made Google agree to reshoot images from a lower camera angle; Germany has demanded erasure of raw footage of faces, house numbers, and license plates of individuals who don’t want to appear in Street View; Greece has so far said no to Google’s requests to photograph its streets; and villagers in Buckinghamshire in England formed a human chain around a Google van to block it from photographing its streets.
Street View is an amazing technology. I used it to successfully track down locations for photographs I took last year in Tokyo--even on small, out-of-the-way side-streets. But is the loss of individual privacy too high a price to pay for my convenience?
Image Credit: peoplearestrange/Flickr