Web search giant Google faces a court case in Switzerland because of privacy concerns over its Street View service. The application allows a 360-degree view of any street-level location. The search engine, which has diverted away from its original purpose of search advertising and online marketing, has created street view applications for a whole host of countries around the world, most recently Switzerland. A search marketing company may be interested in this news, as ethical search marketing may be affected.

“Numerous faces and vehicle number plates are not made sufficiently unrecognisable,” said data protection commissioner Hanspeter Thuer.

Google said it was disappointed by the move. The firm says it is convinced that Swiss View is legal in Switzerland and will “vigorously contest” the case. The online advertising giant will have to allocate some of its budget to defending the case, which will mean that, potentially, their work on search marketing will be altered. An ethical search marketing company will be intrigued.

Line of sight

Mr Thuer is especially concerned about people shown in sensitive locations such as hospitals, prisons or schools. He also said that the height of the camera was problematic because it allowed a view over fences, hedges and walls, meaning that more could be seen from Street View than by a normal passer-by. Google has created its own program of blocking out people’s faces, but gardens and hedgerows would be somewhat more challenging. From an outsider’s point of view, it does seem a strange program for the search marketing giants to be creating. But hopefully the online advertising campaign will still be at the forefront of Google’s activity.

The commissioner said Google was asked in August to take various measures and had not complied with the requests. It is likely to take months before any court case actually starts, but it could have a more immediate impact on the Swiss availability of the service. Google will be hoping that the Swiss public are not with the Government on this case. If so, they might well expect a backlash with Swiss people switching to search engines like Yahoo! and Bing. This will have a huge impact on search marketing, especially in Switzerland. Also, with the global nature of the internet, it will also be of interest to a search marketing company in other countries.
Mr Thuer has asked a tribunal to order Google to remove all pictures of Switzerland and to cease taking any more until a ruling has been made. The case is likely to be heard in the European courts in the next few months, and in the mean time hopefully ethical search marketing will continue in Switzerland and around the globe.