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What's That in the Sky? Avengers, Superman, or Just Google and Apple Spy Planes?
(Image: YouTube screenshot)

What's That in the Sky? Avengers, Superman, or Just Google and Apple Spy Planes?

Many people love the convenience of GPS at their fingertips via the programmers at Mapquest and Google. At times, the stunning accuracy and digital quality of Google Street view can be disconcerting. Some countries are so concerned about this data in the wrong hands, they have won court decisions to make Google offer you an option to blur your house or building. The Information Commissioner's Office in the UK has been persistent in questioning Google on their information gathering and correlation practices.  But the story does not end there.

These digital maps are like a global scrapbook. Pictures of events, memories, places and people. Except, even jump out of sight from your friend's camera lens, all these photos will be snapped via spy planes for Google and Apple. There are other companies in this space as well, such as Nokia and Hover Inc., and all are racing to be the major provider of detailed maps. What happens when the map shows your face on your private property?

Anyone remember reading a privacy agreement for that app?  Most of us have come to recognize the Google street car but these spies in the sky will be virtually unnoticeable.  This data in the wrong hands could put not just your privacy at risk but your safety too.

Apple recently bought C3 Technologies and the spy plane technology has already been tested in London and other cities. C3 technologies says on their LinkedIn page: " Due to the high detail and large city coverage C3 Maps is a world unique product..." and they, "Focus on realistic detail, color and geometric quality."  Google images used to come from satellite and their street car.  Now they will use both the car and the spy planes.

Why This is Concerning:

  1. These systems get glitches - remember how the Google streetcars grabbed the WiFi network data from personal residences?  What personal data might be collected via this technology?  Audio?  Facial recognition?
  2. If they snap photos of you on personal property how will they track you down for a personal consent form?
  3. The images online now are creepy to many or amusing to others and the deeper you click, the grainier the photos become.  That issue goes away for  the new "Big Brother" cameras.  Most spy plane photos can be taken with amazing digital clarity and at altitudes of approximately 1500 feet. One report said that the cameras are so accurate that you could photograph people in their homes through their skylights - “Honey, no need to clean those skylights anymore!”

What Are Google and Apple Planning Publicly?:

  1. Google plans to have 3D images of large towns and cities online by the end of this year
  2. Apple has already unveiled its new mapping program and plans to aggressively add more photos to their maps

You might read this and think, as Elias said in the Person of Interest CBS television show, "You can't stop the inevitable, Detective. Change will happen whether you embrace it or not."  I know this change is already here but we can shape how the technology is used, deployed, and where the data about our private lives is stored.

What Can You Do About it?:

  1.  Complain directly to Apple, Google, and other companies and ask for opt out and privacy features
  2.   Contact your Senator or Congress representative and tell them you are concerned and that you want regular updates on this matter

Some of you might read this and think that it is too late or that the U.S. does not have to protect your rights against this technology. I respectfully disagree with that notion. This technology is fabulous when used the right way. It can be used to provide great directions when you travel. In times of crisis, emergency personnel and first responders can use it to get to people in great need. In the wrong hands, this information could be used to endanger you. Regardless of how you feel about the technology, this issue deserves an open discussion and debate.

When James Madison introduced the U.S. Bill of Rights, he believed that American citizens should have their privacy protected. The Bill of Rights covers the protection of your privacy of beliefs (1st Amendment), person and possessions against unreasonable searches (4th Amendment), and against self incrimination (5th Amendment). The 14th Amendment provides a great foundation with, "No State shall...deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Pictures, videos, or even audio snapped from the sky without your permission crosses that line.

If you want to take action, let the Federal Trade Commission know your opinion. A group called the Center for Democracy and Technology has created a “Privacy Complaint Tool.” And you can always contact your elected officials, let them know how you feel.


Theresa Payton is the co-author of the new book, "Protecting Your Internet Identity: Are You Naked Online?"

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