- Officials met Google on Monday and will meet with Apple on Friday
- Senator Charles Schumer wants firms to understand privacy concerns
- He has written to both accusing them of ‘unprecedented invasion of privacy’
PUBLISHED: 03:01 EST, 20 June 2012 | UPDATED: 03:01 EST, 20 June 2012
U.S. officials have warned Google and Apple of privacy concerns as the companies fly ‘military-grade spy planes’ over cities to gather data for 3D map services.
Staffers for Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, met with Google executives on Monday to discuss privacy issues related to the camera-equipped planes.
They plan to meet with Apple on Friday. The senator’s office also plans to reach out to Microsoft and other companies that may be developing similar technologies.
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Senator Schumer said he wanted to make sure the companies ‘understand the significance of our concerns over the potential publication of images captured in people’s backyards and other private settings.’
The lawmaker wrote to the rival Silicon Valley corporations on Monday accusing them of ‘an unprecedented invasion of privacy’ by using technology capable of imaging objects as small as 4in.
In his letter, Senator Schumer raised concerns over Apple’s and Google’s reported ‘digital mapping plans that use military-grade spy planes with enough precision to see through windows, catch detailed images of private backyard activities, and record images as small as four inches.’
Google and Apple each unveiled new 3D mapping services this month at separate events. The maps let users navigate around an aerial view of a city that appears much more realistic than the flat, top-down satellite-based images currently available.
The two companies are racing to complete the new maps which will be a key feature as they compete to attract users to their rival smartphone offerings.
The company added that it takes privacy ‘very seriously.’
APPLE’S ‘MILITARY TECHNOLOGY’
Apple’s spy planes are believed to be equipped with technology developed by defence agencies to guide missile strikes.
Each plane is equipped with multiple cameras taking high-resolution photographs of buildings and landmarks from every possible angle, which are then compiled to make three-dimensional images.
The military-grade images are taken at a height of around 1,600ft, meaning people below are very unlikely to realise they are being photographed.
The cameras can be installed on planes, helicopters or even unmanned drones, although there are safety restrictions about the use of the latter in Britain.
A small plane carrying the cameras can photograph up to 100 square kilometres (38.6 square miles) every hour.
Apple said it does not display personally identifiable details such as faces or license plates, and that ‘we create optimised pictures taken from multiple shots and remove moving objects such as cars and people from the final image.’
By the end of the year, Google said it expects to have 3D map coverage for metropolitan areas with a combined population of 300million people.
At an event demonstrating the new maps this month, Google said it was using a fleet of airplanes owned and operated by contractors but flying exclusively for Google.
Equipped with custom-designed cameras, the planes fly in ‘a very tightly controlled pattern’ over metropolitan areas, taking pictures from 45-degree angles, Google executives explained.
The photographs are then used to build 3D computer-generated models of the buildings and cityscapes.
Google has used planes to collect aerial photos in the past, such as following the 2010 San Bruno, California, gas-line explosion. But the latest effort marks the company’s most significant use of the planes in a systematic manner to build a standard feature in one of its products.
Google has faced scrutiny over mapping services in the past, such as with the camera-equipped ‘Street View’ cars that crisscross the globe taking panoramic pictures of streets for its popular mapping service.
In 2010, Google acknowledged that the so-called Street View cars had collected emails, passwords and other personal data from home wireless networks.
Collecting the WiFi data was unrelated to the Google Maps project; it was done so that Google could collect data on WiFi hot spots that can be used to provide separate location-based services, executives said.