Just When You Thought It Was Safe...
June 20, 2012

Just When You Thought It Was Safe…

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com

Steve Jobs may or may not have once declared “thermonuclear” war on Google´s Android. Now, it seems the two California companies have found themselves in a brand new kind of battle. The two smartphone makers are accustomed to duking it out over marketshare and units sold. How they got into the almost yawn-worthy battle of Mapping could be less interesting than the battle itself, if that´s even possible. So, while Apple has left Google to make their own maps app, some advocacy groups and governments are bringing attention to this battle and calling into question their methods of gathering the data used in their 3D offerings.

Last week, the Daily Mail quoted advocacy group spokesperson Nick Pickles as saying, “You won´t be able to sunbathe in your garden without worrying about an Apple or Google plane buzzing overhead taking pictures.”

This week, a New York senator is joining the rally cry. Concerned Apple and Google could possibly discover the secret to his super-secret barbecue sauce, Senator Charles Schumer told the Metro, “Barbecuing or sunbathing in your backyard shouldn´t be a public event.”

“People should be free from the worry of some high-tech peeping Tom technology violating one´s privacy when in your own home.”

Schumer has also issued a letter to both companies wherein he implores them to take action now, either in revealing their secrets or reducing the quality of their images.

“It´s imperative,” says Schumer´s letter, “that these companies disclose their plans for protecting privacy of both individuals and sensitive infrastructure, their publication intentions, and their plans for including public consent in the mapping process.”

Outside of being an unwelcome guest to all your summer events, there are some potentially serious issues here as well. For instance, Schumer is concerned cyber-criminals and terrorists alike could use these images to “create more complete schematic maps of the power and water grids in the United States.”

According to his letter, Schumer wants the companies to do the following when they fly overhead with their military-grade equipment:

- Warn the communities ahead of time to let them know you´ll be swinging by. (It will also give them the necessary time to prepare the appropriate flashmob/protest)

- Blur any photos of individuals as well as allow property owners the right to opt-out of having their property on display

- Work with local law enforcement to make sure terrorists can´t make detailed plans of power and water grids, as well as plans of other sensitive buildings and landmarks.

Schumer also mentions that the current maps offerings–such as Google Earth–don´t feature the dangerously high-resolution shots and are therefore safe. Now that the two behemoths are taking to their maps apps to go to war with one another, the senator is concerned the two will begin using ultra high-res shots and will therefore place the nation in danger.

A Google spokesperson has commented on Schumer's note, telling the Talking Points Memo, “We appreciate the Senator´s concerns and we look forward to meeting with him to demonstrate how the imagery used to develop our 3D models is similar to what´s already publicly available in 2D mapping products. We currently don´t blur aerial imagery because the resolution isn´t sharp enough for it to be a concern.”

Apple has yet to comment.