Switzerland's Highest Court Rules Google's Ski Slope and Street View Images Can Remain Online
Switzerland's Bundesgericht handed Google a big victory on Friday by allowing the company to publish images without completely obscuring private information.
By David Cronheim
GoogleEarth introduced a popular new service in 2012 when it videotaped Swiss ski runs and published the images on as part of its "Street View" product. In February, Bloomberg reported that Google planned to add images of a total of 350 kilometers (218 miles) of Swiss ski pistes.
The ski version of Street View has been a great PR tool for Swiss resorts. As Daniel Lugen, a resort director in Zermatt put it, “[a] picture is worth a thousand words...This will give people a sneak preview and hopefully get them motivated to get out on the slopes.’’ However, some questioned whether Street View conformed with Swiss law.
Switzerland has some of world's strictest privacy laws. Swiss privacy advocates filed suit against Google in 2009, alleging that Street View violated Swiss law because it failed to ensure complete anonymity of private information. The heart of the complaint was that as Google's cameras snapped pictures of Swiss streets or ski slopes, they also captured images of people and identifying information on buildings. The complainants contended that uploading the images without individualized permission violated Swiss law. The Bundesgericht disagreed.
The court held that, with the exception of certain highly sensitive places such as schools, courts and hospitals, Google did not need to guarantee absolute anonymity for persons pictured on Street View. The ski version of street view faced only minimal privacy concerns as the slopes were closed prior to filming, so very few people would have had their images captured by the cameras. However, Google had threatened to remove all images, including ski images, if the court found its service to be unlawful.
As an aside, Google has no such legal issues in the United States. American law differs greatly with regard to the degree of protection it affords to people in public places. In the US, persons in public places have extremely limited privacy rights, on the theory that anything which one knowingly exposes to the public is not private.
Google has not definitively stated that it will not make good on its threat to cancel all of its Swiss Street View product, but hopefully by allowing publishing without the need for costly pixelation of private information, Street View and its fantastic ski slope images can remain in place.
Author David B. Cronheim, Esq.
Legal Advisor to Ropeways.net/Seilbahn.net
David B. Cronheim, Esq. is an attorney at the law firm of Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus, P.A.
It's only a matter of time before large ski resorts start using this imgery for trail maps and using smart-phone GPS to help skiers make there way around large resorts (want to go from White Heat to Oz? Ram's Head to Bear Mt?) Also, although I aesthetically like Neihaus ski maps, they are woefully innaccurate at times compared to a Google-earth image (he mentioned in the recent interview I'm sure you all have read that he never actually goes and sees any of the mountains he's drawn).
Uh... That's not what he has said in his interviews. I'm pretty certain he has said he will take a small plane up and photograph the mountain from all angles and even uses topo maps ... unless the mountain provided him with sufficient imagery. He never mentioned he's trying to paint an exact landscape of the mountain. If he did you'd never find the narrow trails, or parts of the mountain would be obscured from view. He tries to get a general feel for the layout and shape of the mountain while depicting everything possible and keeping it as realistic as possible. I dont know one person who could get lost from his maps. He does an excellent job with his maps...otherwise he wouldn't have such a large market share.
Anyway back to the topic at hand, I posted links about a year ago to the SlopeView imagery for Google's test ski areas ... Attitash and Wildcat. Overall the quality is on par with the StreetView imagery. Maybe a ski area could partner with Google and photograph the trails when the ski area is closed (say first thing in the morning) so better quality images could be taken. Remember, the quality is poor due to privacy concerns.
I look at Google street views, say Tampa, Busch Gardens. You see people waiting for a bus. The image blocks out the faces. Great feature that street view. I would love it on a slope. Are these camera photos or satalite?