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Google Wins Partial Repeal Of Street View Privacy Ruling In Switzerland

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GENEVA — Switzerland's supreme court has ruled that Google doesn't need to be perfect when it comes to privacy.

The Internet giant has won a partial repeal of a lower court decision that required the company to guarantee absolute anonymity for people pictured in its popular Street View service.

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

The court said Google still has to make it easy for people to have their images manually blurred, and must ensure total anonymity in sensitive areas such as schools, hospitals, women's shelters and courts, where skin color and clothing must also be obscured.

The Lausanne-based tribunal additionally upheld part of the Federal Administrative Court's ruling last year that Google must stop automatically publishing pictures of private gardens and courtyards taken with cameras positioned higher than 2 meters (6 1/2 feet).

Google welcomed the supreme court verdict but left open whether it would now withdraw its previous threat to remove all pictures of Switzerland from Street View.

"We will now look at the ruling closely, discuss it with the federal data protection commissioner and examine what options are available," said Daniel Schoenberger, Google's legal chief for Switzerland.

Switzerland's privacy watchdog had wanted an absolute guarantee of anonymity in Street View, an online service that allows users to take virtual tours of cities and towns in dozens of countries around the world.

During a court hearing last year the data protection commissioner Hanspeter Thuer used a live version of Street View to demonstrate examples where the software failed to obscure faces of adults and children in public – including outside the court itself – and even peered into private homes.

While data protection laws in Switzerland are particularly strict, Google has faced privacy concerns in many of the countries where Street View is available. In Germany, residents can request that entire buildings be blurred to protect their privacy.

Thuer said he was satisfied with the ruling as it confirmed that foreign companies also are subject to Swiss privacy law.

Google has one of its biggest offices outside the United States in Zurich, where hundreds of engineers develop new services for the company.

As part of a publicity drive in Switzerland, Google has used its Street View cameras to photograph the country's ski slopes and spectacular Alpine railway journeys.

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