Apple and Google under fire for invading privacy with new maps

Melissa Quinn Contributor
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Be careful: Google and Apple are watching – and Democratic Senator Charles Schumer is not happy about it.

The two companies have revealed the use of military-grade spy planes bought to take pictures of streets, homes and buildings for their new 3D map applications, but the senator is worried that the images are a violation of citizen’s privacy and potentially national security.

In a letter to the companies, Schumer expressed concerns about the new technology, saying that it has never before been used for public purposes, and people have a right to know when their homes and communities are being mapped.

The planes use cameras with the ability to see through windows, peek into backyards and record images as small as four inches.

“Barbequing 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,” the senator said in a press release.

Two weeks ago, Google and Apple each announced they will unveil apps displaying maps in 3D. Google plans to have maps of the residences of more than 300 million citizens by the end of the year.

Schumer proposed three options to the companies to protect the privacy of citizens: 1. notify communities regarding when they plan to map residence; 2. blur out  individuals who are photographed; 3. work with law enforcement to create measures to ensure that sensitive buildings are blurred.

“These programs have the potential to put private images on public display. We need to hit the pause button here and figure out what is happening and how we can best protect peoples’ privacy, without unduly impeding technological advancement,” Schumer said.

Schumer warned that while the cameras give Google and Apple access to sensitive information, the maps may also give criminals and terrorists views of sensitive infrastructure like power and water grids. Currently, power lines, reservoir access points and power sub stations are not visible on online maps, but with the images created on the new maps, it would be impossible to secure every potential location, Schumer warned.

This is not the first time the companies have captured a bird’s eye view of the world below. Programs like Google Maps and Google Earth were created in 2005, though they use a low level of precision, so faces and specific details of infrastructure cannot be made out.

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