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Street View in a jam over Swiss roll-out

Data protection head orders service offline

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Google has run into a spot of privacy bother with the Swiss roll-out of its all-seeing Street View, with the country's head of federal data protection demanding it be shut down just days after it went online last Tuesday.

According to Hans-Peter Thür, "many faces and car registration plates were clearly visible or were insufficiently obscured". On Friday, he ordered Google to pull the images pending improvement of its face-blurring software.

He said: "Numerous reports from the public and our own research show that Google Street View does not respect the conditions that were laid down. Many faces and car numbers have not been blurred, or only insufficiently so."

Thür's censorship demand apparently came as a bit of a shock to the Great Satan of Mountain View, "because a constructive dialogue on the privacy issue had been held in the weeks running up to Street View being switched on", as Swissinfo puts it.

Google Switzerland's Matthias Meyer admitted the privacy-protecting tech had "teething problems", but insisted the company attached "the greatest importance to data protection and respected the laws on the country in which it was working".

He said: "Our face and licence plate blurring software is very effective, but like any new technology it still makes mistakes now and then - occasionally blurring things that shouldn't be blurred, or missing some things that should.

"We're constantly working to improve the software so that we can improve the blurring we apply to images, and to do this we need to keep the original unblurred copies."

This last assertion is a reference to European Union demands that Google delete said unblurred Street View source images - something the company has grudgingly agreed to do, although it evidently continues to press the case for their retention.

Google and the Swiss data protection authorities are due to meet this week to attempt to resolve the local issue. The service was still laying bare the good burghers of Switzerland at time of writing. ®

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