Google: Swiss ruling could close Street View

Google said on Wednesday it would appeal to Switzerland's highest court against a ruling forcing it to mask faces on its Street View service. The ruling could force it to shut down the facility in Switzerland, it said.

Google: Swiss ruling could close Street View
Max Bucher

The judgement from the Federal Administrative Tribunal ordered the Internet giant to ensure that all people and cars pictured on Street View were unrecognisable. 

The official Swiss data protection watchdog took Google to court in November 2009 after complaining on several occasions that the service’s coverage of Switzerland flouted privacy rules, following similar complaints elsewhere in Europe.

“In the interest of Internet users and Swiss companies, Google will lodge an appeal …before the Federal Tribunal so that Street View can still be offered in Switzerland,” the firm said in a statement.

Google warned that it might be forced to shut down the facility for Switzerland even though it was used by what it said was “half of the Swiss population.”

Google’s global privacy counsel, Peter Fleischer said: “Ninety-nine percent of people are not identifiable.”

“The decision of the Federal Administrative Tribunal requires us to guarantee that 100 percent of faces and licence plate are not identifiable. We simply cannot comply with that.

Street View allows users to take a ground level panoramic view of some locations on Google Maps, based on still photographs taken by specially equipped vehicles.

Data protection commissioner Hanspeter Thuer has accused the Internet firm of refusing to apply most of his recommendations, while Google claims it must rely on an automatic blurring system for faces and vehicle registration plates.

The Federal Administrative Court ruled last month that all faces and number plates must be made unrecognisable before they can be published on the Internet.

Google argued on Wednesday that about 1,000 Swiss companies had already integrated Street View into their websites, including property agents,the post office and city councils.

In its ruling published on April 4, the administrative court concluded that the public interest in having a visual record and Google’s commercial interests could not outweigh an individual’s right over their own image.

It said “the pictures can be made more or totally unrecognisable, and this is a proportionate measure.”

Google’s Street View has sparked similar privacy concerns and legal battles in several other countries, including Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

France’s data privacy regulator imposed a record fine of 100,000 euros ($142,000) on Google in March for collecting private information while compiling photos for the service.


More than 1.6 million Swiss have downloaded Covid tracing app

Since its launch on June 25th some 20 percent of Switzerland’s population have downloaded the country's Covid-19 track and trace app. But is it enough to curtail the transmission of the virus?

More than 1.6 million Swiss have downloaded Covid tracing app
Authorities hope SwissCovid app will help curb the number of Covid-19 infections. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Two weeks after its launch, the SwissCovid app has been downloaded by 1.6 million Swiss – or approximately 20 percent of the population.

On the first day of its implementation the Federal Office of Statistics had registered more than half a million users.

On Saturday June 27th, the application was activated almost 810,000 times, according to figures released by the Federal Statistical Office.

Experts say that, to be truly effective, SwissCovid app must be used by at least 60 percent of the population. They expect that more people will download the application in the coming days and weeks.

The government is hopeful that around one in five Swiss will download the app. This is much lower than the 60 percent rate which Oxford University said was necessary to ensure the app functioned effectively in society. 

Sang-Il Kim, the Head of Dept. Digital Transformation at the BAG, said that 20 percent was an optimistic goal. 

“I would be happy if 20 percent of the smartphones would use the app,” Kim said. 

Only newer phones

Approximately 20 percent – or one in five – of smartphone users cannot use the app because their phones are too old. 

Kim said that this was a rate much higher than in other countries, with Switzerland’s efforts benefitting from the country’s love of new devices. 

“We are fortunate that only 20 percent of users are technically excluded from the app. In other countries, up to 50 percent of them have smartphones that are too old.”

Users of iPhone 6 and older models cannot use the app. 

The app registers when an individual comes into contact with other people through a person’s smartphone location systems and bluetooth.

Contact is traced when one person with the app is less than two metres from another person with the app for more than 15 minutes in a 24-hour period. 

Such contacts are recorded anonymously on both devices. 

If one of those users tests positive for the coronavirus, the person will receive a 'covid code' from the cantonal authorities.

READ MORE: Q&A: How will Switzerland's coronavirus tracing app work? 

If you have an iPhone 6 or a more recent model, or an Android 6, you can download the app for free from:

Google Play Store for Android

Apple Store for iOS

The tracing of transmission chains is crucial in curtailing the spread of coronavirus, especially as the number of cases increased in Switzerland in recent days.

The Federal Office of Public Health said that within the last week, the number of infections climbed from 18 on June 25th to 62 on Sunday. 

According to Matthias Egger, the head of the government’s Covid-19 Task Force, the spike in cases can be attributed to the recent lifting of lockdown restrictions, including the opening of borders with the EU on June 15th.