June 12, 2012

Apple And Google, Your Eyes In The Sky

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com

As the old saying goes, you never want to know how the sausage is made. Sometimes, it´s simply easier–both on the mind and the stomach– to be ignorant as to how the things we consume are delivered to us.

Case in point, Google´s Street View rovers. As they drive through cities and towns, they continuously capture data and images. As such, they´ve often caught a few things on camera that may or may not have been intended for such an audience, as well as sorted some very private data from local residents.

With Apple and Google in a new battle over 3D mapping technology, the two companies have been rushing to make sure their product is the best option. According to the Daily Mail Online, the way both companies plan to do this is less than appetizing, as they will commission planes with military-grade cameras to fly over our cities, snapping pictures as they go.

These cameras, by the way, are capable of showing items only 4-inches wide. Besides being more than a little shudder-worthy, some campaigners are saying these developments will not only allow common users to find their way to the closest Starbucks, but they could also allow governments to spy on us from above.

Google proudly announced last week that they´ve been flying over San Francisco in order to build out the 3D models found in their maps app and will continue to do so over the World´s largest metropolitan areas.

Apple, on the other hand, acquired a firm which uses similar technology already tested in 20 locations. In fact, the equipment used by Apple has also been used by intelligence agencies to identify terrorists in Afghanistan.

The use of these kinds of technologies by these two mega-companies has been called a “race to the bottom” by some privacy advocates.

According to the Daily Mail Online, Nick Pickles with advocacy group Big Brother Watch has said. “The next generation of maps is taking us over the garden fence,” he warned. “You won´t be able to sunbathe in your garden without worrying about an Apple or Google plane buzzing overhead taking pictures.”

According to Pickles, homeowners should be asked for their consent before images of their houses are displayed online for all to see.

Of the two companies, Apple handles their privacy policies much better than Google. As such, their new Maps application is expected to have some heavy-duty privacy controls attached. As it stands, 3D mapping technology does rely on aerial technology, albeit it much lower quality than the new maps offerings from the California companies. In Apple´s demo of their new Maps app today, they were able to zoom directly into a building until a dialog box popped up displaying the company information associated with that building.

As for the planes and technology being used, Apple´s planes are believed to be outfitted with the same technology used to guide missile strikes, according to the Daily Mail. The images gathered by these spy planes are collected at 1,600 feet, with cameras pointed at every angle, these planes are then able to create very accurate 3D renderings of the buildings, landmarks and streets as they quietly soar overhead.