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Switzerland's Data Protection Watchdog Wants Street View Disabled 257

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-so-neutral dept.
glow-in-the-dark writes "The Swiss office for Data Protection has asked Google to turn off Street View within the country because it doesn't meet the conditions demanded when permission was given to go ahead with the photography. Google answered privacy concerns with the following points (I'm translating them from German; here's an automated translation): 'Google will publish in advance where it is going to record the images, so you can act accordingly.' Do they want you to hide? Where is the real obligation here? 'Google has made masking the images of people and car license plates obligatory.' I think this is where trouble starts, because their permission to go ahead appears to have been dependent on how well they did this. I have browsed one particular town as an experiment and was quite quickly able to find unmasked faces. This means that either the algorithm they use doesn't work, or that it is done manually and they've fallen behind (in which case they should not have put up the images). 'Although a picture of a home is generally not covered under Data Protection, Google has agreed to remove them if asked. Follow the same process as removing a person.' I think it wouldn't be half as bad if the pictures weren't taken with a high enough resolution to see inside a house. In short, Google has not been given the easy ride it had in other countries regarding Street View. I actually suspect there is more to come."
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Switzerland's Data Protection Watchdog Wants Street View Disabled

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  • by RickRussellTX (755670) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @10:46AM (#29155709)
    Do you mean people walking down the street with a camera might photograph cars or faces? Or see things through a transparent material? And those same people could publish pictures on the Internet for any reason! They are history's greatest monsters. Well, I'm going to go live in a cave where this sort of thing can't happen. Who will think of the children? [penny-arcade.com]
  • by rolfwind (528248) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @10:47AM (#29155715)

    The thing is, no one cares about your lawn.

    The problem with the whole street view debate is that it's nothing that isn't seen.... from the street.... by every commuter. But because it's on the internet, it's somehow special now.

  • by RickRussellTX (755670) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @10:55AM (#29155761)

    (1) Why is it a problem when Google takes photos of your house? (2) What is your expectation of privacy regarding the portions of your property visible from a public street? (3) You say it's creepy when individuals put up pictures of your house. Has that happened? Have you tried to find out? If not, can you truly say that it is important to you?

    This back-and-forth regarding publicly visible portions of private property is a huge mess. Either something is viewable from the street and therefore fodder for general photography, or its not. This singling out of Google is only going to create an unbearable enforcement mess when the next prima-donna Barbra Streisand type decides that they want to sue every tourist, amateur photographer and real estate company who might have *DARED* publish photos including some corner of their property.

  • by Psyborgue (699890) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @10:57AM (#29155781) Homepage Journal
    Where does it stop? Does this mean just about anybody can be forbidden from publishing pictures of things visible from the public eye? I can see a danger of this sort of thing being applied very selectively.
  • by Reaperducer (871695) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @11:05AM (#29155819)
    Your proposal makes no sense. Millions of people live in cities. If someone uses Google Street View to find a particular Best Buy, they will also find my home, since the Best Buy is on the first floor and there are offices and residences above it.
  • by Reaperducer (871695) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @11:17AM (#29155891)

    It's only really messy in other parts of the world (In this case, Switzerland.) In the United States the courts have long ruled, and it is well established that pretty much anyone can take pictures of your home if they want as long as they're on public property (sidewalk, street, park, etc...) They can also take pictures of YOU if you are in public. Shock! Horror!

    The problem is that Google caves in to the requests of amateur lawyers who have threatened to sue Google over publishing pictures of their homes or faces in Street View. From Google's point of view, it's easier and cheaper to blur things out. But from a public policy and rights perspective, it would have been better for the American people long-term if Google actually started fighting and winning these suits in order to shut the nutjobs up. If you don't want people to see you -- stay inside. If you don't want people to photograph your house, build a wall or buy out the neighbors to construct a massive lawn.

    Of course, it isn't Google's job to fight these kind of fights. That's what newspapers are for, and is an example of the constant legal battles that newspapers are (mostly silently) fighting in court to protect the rights of the average American. Of course, then Google leeches the newspaper's content and makes money off of it, but that's a different argument.

    And before I get a bunch of IANALs responding to this post, let me just say STFU. It's my job to know these sorts of things. Unless you're a lawyer or a judge who disagrees with all the briefings I've had with some of the nation's top attorneys on just this kind of matter, don't bother to respond.

  • by RickRussellTX (755670) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @11:33AM (#29155981)

    Because if the actions of individuals are constrained by fear of lawsuits, then nobody will take pictures, and applications of photographic and mapping technology will likewise be constrained. Sure, now he complains about Google. Next time it will be local realty system, then the city's map of water and sewer lines ("you can see the right rear tire of my car in this picture!"), then some poor guy's photostream on Flickr, etc.

    I've used Street View to look at pictures of a destination -- including other people's residences -- PLENTY of times. It's absolutely invaluable to get the lay of the area, identify parking, etc before going out there, and reduces the likelihood of an accident or a traffic ticket. Realizing that the main parking entrance to a facility is on Beta Street when its mailing address is on Alpha Drive is fantastically useful information that saves me time and makes me safer.

    And *it does not collect any information that is not easy visible from the street*. As a matter of principle, publishing photos taken on a public street should have no a priori restrictions.

  • by mccalli (323026) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @11:58AM (#29156135) Homepage
    Thing is, they clearly don't find it perfectly reasonable. I must say I have misgivings about it also. So we agree - give 'em what they want, turn it off. It's just that it seems we have come to the same conclusions for entirely different reasons.

    Cheers,
    Ian
  • by Psyborgue (699890) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @12:11PM (#29156225) Homepage Journal
    But the fact remains that the faces are required to be blurred. I agree that Google should do this as they do in the states, but voluntarily not by force of the states. The problem is that by requiring them to do that it creates the ability to do it to just about anybody who takes a photo in a public place and publishes it. What happens when this gets applied to, for example, photos of police brutality at a protest in interest of the privacy of the police officers? or a politician or famous businessman in a compromising position? What about news cameraman taking photos of crowds. By the Swiss definition of privacy they would be violating thousands of people's privacy at once. I think it's a lot easier to put the responsibility on individuals so that if they don't want something to be public, they shouldn't do it in public. It gives more freedom to everybody but at the same time requires more individual responsibility. I can't see the huge privacy violation anyway. I see people's faces un-blurred every day when I walk down the street. Just because it's on the internet doesn't somehow make it evil. It's not like it's realtime and tracking people's movements. No. That's what CCTV does and apparently few Europeans have problems with that. What makes the government somehow more trustworthy than a corporation?
  • by Psyborgue (699890) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @12:28PM (#29156349) Homepage Journal

    No. It's more like this:

    Person A: "I demand with the authority endowed to me by a 51% majority (compared to the other bad choice) that you no longer sell cookies to anybody in my group because I am all powerful and all knowing and speak for all of them, including the minority that have no individual liberty! Cookies are bad! Muahahahahah!"

    Person B: "ok, fine, but i'll be sure and tell the next customer who asks for cookies why they can't have any and what an asshole you are!"

  • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @01:51PM (#29156845)

    But because it's on the internet, it's somehow special now.

    Someone in the street randomly walking past your house is a momentary, transient thing. Any observations are made incidentally by a single person, if they happen to be looking at all, which most people won't anyway because they'd feel a bit embarassed if they were caught peering in through someone else's window.

    Google is a commercial organisation, systematically collecting high resolution images of an entire area while the people doing it are safely hidden away inside a car and then storing those images in a permanent, searchable database that is accessible to anyone.

    Can you really not see the difference between these two scenarios?

    Google have always pushed the boundaries of what is reasonable behaviour in terms of data mining, but I think this time they have clearly gone too far and they're about to start feeling the resistance that has been brewing for a while now. Countries are trying to prohibit their actions by law. Perhaps more telling, whole villages of normal people are turning out to physically block the car because they don't want it spying on them. Google are even failing the obvious reasonable behaviour test of "Would people think it was acceptable if those Google staff went up to every home in person and took a high res camera shot through the front window?" Are you seriously claiming that if someone walked up to the front of your home in person and started snapping away through all your windows, maybe a shot down the side to where your kids are playing, noting down your car registration, and so on, you would have no problem with that? I suppose that's possible, but I think you're in a very small minority if that's true.

    As usual, the law is not keeping pace with technology, but in an era of mass communication and enormous databases, we really do need to make sure we get serious privacy/personal data protections enshrined in law in the very near future. Very bad stuff is already happened to far too many people, and it's only going to get worse if governments and megacorps are allowed to continue on their quest to turn every citizen's life into rows in a database.

  • by RickRussellTX (755670) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @02:00PM (#29156897)

    You might be OK with the concept and execution of Google Street View. However, a lot of people most certainly are not happy. We don't want our houses plastered up on an easily indexed, location linked, photography database.

    And it's going to happen anyway, with or without Google. I've posted hundreds of geolocated photos in Earthscape and Picasa. More will come. In 5 or 10 years, perhaps every photographable thing on earth will have at least one geolocated, maps-searchable photo pointing at it.

    You're worried about photos of your house. Have you bothered to check Picasa [google.com], Flickr [flickr.com], Imageshack [imageshack.us], Photobucket [photobucket.com], Bayimg [bayimg.com]? TerraServer [terraserver.com]? Real estate comparison sites [zillow.com]? What of the hundreds of other image and geographic services I have not named?

    If not, can you claim with a straight face that this issue is important enough to warrant government involvement in private photography? It is unclear to me that there should be an a priori restraint on publication simply because "a lot of people are not happy". If that's a problem, toddle on down your Congressman's office and see if you can get enough people interested to pass a law. If you don't care enough to bother, fine, but don't tell me it's important to you.

    I'm a veteran of these wars. I fought Lotus Marketplace [cpsr.org], I wrote letters to my legislators and to Lotus and to Mitch Kapor. That success was utterly irrelevant. What I have learned is that you need to pick your battles, and pick them only when there is real harm being done. Otherwise you risk creating an unwieldly, overbearing enforcement environment that hurts everybody.

  • by Toonol (1057698) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @02:11PM (#29156949)
    Perhaps google is removing those images upon request, not because it's worried about the lawsuit, but because it's simply polite? Sometimes companies do things for other reasons than for absolute legal necessity. Sometimes for PR... sometimes because an employee actually is NICE.

    Of course, it isn't Google's job to fight these kind of fights. That's what newspapers are for, and is an example of the constant legal battles that newspapers are (mostly silently) fighting in court to protect the rights of the average American. Of course, then Google leeches the newspaper's content and makes money off of it, but that's a different argument.

    That's not a newspaper's job; it's job is just to report facts. Activism on the part of newspapers is generally detrimental. It's the citizen's job to fight for rights.

    And before I get a bunch of IANALs responding to this post, let me just say STFU. It's my job to know these sorts of things. Unless you're a lawyer or a judge who disagrees with all the briefings I've had with some of the nation's top attorneys on just this kind of matter, don't bother to respond.

    Wow, you're an ass. Specifically, you are thinking that the only relevant issue is the legal issue. It's not... although the lawyers and judges have probably told you it is.
  • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @02:25PM (#29157041)

    But from a public policy and rights perspective, it would have been better for the American people long-term if Google actually started fighting and winning these suits in order to shut the nutjobs up. If you don't want people to see you -- stay inside.

    So where do you draw the line? Can I follow you around? Can I record everywhere you go? Can I watch over your shoulder while you type your PIN, and photograph your credit card number when you take it out of your wallet and it is momentarily visible? Can I systematically record who you spend your time with, when you and your family are out of your home, how your kids go to school, what routes you drive and the details of your car? What about using high-res video equipment and listening devices to monitor what's happening inside your home from outside? How about I publish your entire life, and those of your family and friends, everything I can observe from public places, using any modern technology I can lay my hands on, on-line for all to see?

    I wish someone had tried to do that to fools like Scott "Privacy is dead, deal with it" McNealy. It would made a nice demonstration of the hypocrisy when his expensive security people and/or the police had intervened, particularly if any sort of privacy or harassment laws were used to justify the intervention.

    Unless you're a lawyer or a judge who disagrees with all the briefings I've had with some of the nation's top attorneys on just this kind of matter, don't bother to respond.

    Yes, I definitely believe that someone who wrote a post like that on a forum like Slashdot is a high-flying legal eagle, and furthermore that my own ethics should be completely dictated by the legal system in your jurisdiction, and I'm sure everyone else here agrees that we should just take your word for it.

    Oh, sorry, wait: your listed homepage is for a company that makes money from photographing buildings. I'm sure you're not biased at all, then.

  • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @02:43PM (#29157145)

    An individual following another individual around and taking pictures clearly intends something entirely different from Street View.

    Sure, and I'd agree completely that stalker-like behaviour is even creepier than mass surveillance.

    However, those I am challenging, whose fundamental argument is that if you can observe something from a public place then anything goes, are not entitled to make such distinctions. I assume all their photographs are also in black and white...

  • by chew8bitsperbyte (533087) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @02:47PM (#29157173)
    It IS somehow special now.

    While it's true anyone can walk by and see a house, thereby making the outside public, not all houses have the same expected "audience". For example, I live in Chicago. I have zero expectations of privacy on the outside of my unit, because I'm surrounded by 3 million other people.

    However, if I move to a tiny town of 20,000 people, I expect the total number of "views" that my house gets will drop substantially. There's an expectation that on a given day, I might not have more than 5 people look at my home. With your home posted online, it becomes trivial for millions of people to see it almost instantly.

    I think people concentrate too much on public vs. private, without taking into account the fact that privacy is not binary.

    I'm not for censoring data on the web, but it certainly makes sense why some people are, I think justifiably, upset by this. The barrier to to home viewing has dropped from people driving over (for say a fair or special event) to simply clicking (because your house's address got published on Slashdot, Digg, Reddit, etc.).
  • by jbrazile (1622211) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @11:58PM (#29160939)
    My [swiss] co-workers were caught eating lunch at a restaurant that is derided as being for the uncouth masses (no, not McDonalds). [Sorry guys, if I just outed you on slashdot :-)]

    http://maps.google.ch/?ie=UTF8&ll=47.383045,8.505821&spn=0.002477,0.009645&z=17&layer=c&cbll=47.383047,8.505825&panoid=6fhJi7LDrhilQAciWe5PZA&cbp=11,155.84,,2,8.53 [google.ch]

    During the summer, every restaurant that can, puts tables/chairs outside because the swiss strongly favor it.

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