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For those of us who are completely directionless, Google Maps is a lifesaver. Not only does it tell us how to get from point A to point B, but it also shows us actual pictures of the streets to help us identify landmarks that will aid us on our once hopeless and winding journeys.
The Swiss people nearly lost this wondrous navigational feature due to a lawsuit brought against Google by the Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC), the Swiss data protection watchdog. In March 2011, a lower court ruled that Google was required to obscure every face and license plate featured in the electronic service; Google’s automatic pixilation technology that blurred 99% of those images was deemed inadequate. In response, Google warned that it may not be able to meet such a high demand and would have to remove the street view feature entirely from Switzerland’s version of Google Maps.
On June 8, however, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court announced that Swiss wanderers can breathe easy, overturning part of the lower court’s judgment. While Google is still required to ensure 100% anonymity in certain sensitive areas, such as women’s refuges, schools, courts, and prisons, Google’s standard 99% anonymity will suffice elsewhere. However, Google must also clearly identify the appropriate procedure to submit a request for anonymization in a particular view. Furthermore, Google must remove images of any private areas, such as courtyards or gardens, that are not openly visible to pedestrians.
As one lawsuit closes, the potential for more opens. Google announced last week that it plans to enhance Google Maps further, adding 3D technology and venturing into the unknown to map natural wonders and additional countries. Not to be undone, Apple announced at its annual conference that it plans to launch its own navigational system that will use what have been dubbed by some as, “Apple spy planes.”
The use of planes to offer bird’s eye views of our favorite cities seems cool, but could it spark new and more vigorous claims regarding the right to privacy? Are distant images created by planes more or less concerning than those produced by Google’s camera-equipped vehicles? Who should determine how much privacy the consuming public is willing to give up in exchange for advances in technology – if the public demands Apple planes and disregards their own rights to privacy, will the courts listen?
– Erin Reimer
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