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Swiss courts backtrack on Street View censorship ruling

updated 12:50 pm EDT, Fri June 8, 2012

Government to provide allowance for shown faces

Switzerland's supreme court has issued a ruling that provides flexibility for censored faces in Google's Street View images, after lower courts issued zero-tolerance demands. If the previous decision had been enforced, the search giant could have faced penalties if its automated face-blurring system failed to obscure every individual contained in the panoramic images of Swiss streets.

"It must be accepted that up to a maximum of 1 percent of the images uploaded are insufficiently anonymized," the Swiss court said in a statement.

Although the company has achieved leeway for street view images taken in most areas, regulators still require all faces to be blurred in certain locations such as courts and schools. In such areas, the censorship requirements go as far as mandating that clothing and skin color also be obscured.

Google's Street View technology has been generally well-received in the US, aside from the Wi-Fi scraping debacle, however cultural differences in several European countries have led to a negative perception or outright opposition. Many opponents find the identifiable images of faces and properties to be excessively intrusive for permanent storage and open availability on the Internet.

Aside from face censorship, the Swiss government has also barred Google from automatically posting images of private areas on personal properties if the shots were taken from higher than two meters off the ground.

Google initially encountered difficulties complying with Germany's opt-out program, as several glitches enabled the obscured properties to be viewable from mobile devices. Switzerland has asked for a similar system to enable individuals to request specific content to be obscured from view.

It is unclear if the latest Swiss ruling will put an end to the dispute. Google had initially threatened to pull all Swiss images from the service due to the strict regulations.

by MacNN Staff



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