I still remember the first time I looked up my house on the Google Maps Street View and squealed with geeky delight when I could identify my vehicle sitting in the driveway. I was home when the car drove by and took the footage of my street! It blew my mind, really. The idea is pretty amazing –window shopping in a whole new way. Now, Apple and Google have both taken this technology a step further and brought the images in the maps to life with a third dimension.
But just like any ground breaking technology, the questions are being asked now about whether the added abilities are actually doing more harm than good.
U.S. Senator Charle E. Shumer is one of the first people to ask these questions, with a letter to Google and Apple CEO’s, asking them about the “highly sensitive photography equipment” that they are using to capture the images used in their mapping apps.
Just imagine the positive possibilities of this technology =. Even just one example of moving to a new city –look for a house by virtually traveling down your (potential) new street, plan your route to work, see how the kids would walk to school or even spy on the neighbors and see who has a backyard full of decaying automobiles and who doesn’t mow their lawn.
But what about the potential downsides? With no way of knowing when the military-grade cameras (powerful enough to see inside your home from the airplanes they are mounted to) are flying above you, it’s never possible to know what you were doing the moment they captured their latest image. Do you have skylights in your home? Are you doing something on vacation that you may not want others to see? Are your children playing in the yard? The chances are slim, but it is possible that these new maps could violate your privacy in ways that nobody has thought of.
If you take it a step beyond being caught sunbathing nude, Shumer suggests that criminals and terrorists may be able to use the details images to create things like “schematic maps of the power and water grids in the United States.” He’s right, but he’s discounting the fact that there are other ways to do this kind of thing –and those with the will can find a way.
Nonetheless, Shumer does have three suggestions for Google and Apple:
- Provide notification to communities as to when you plan to conduct mapping
- Automatically blur photos of individuals who are captured, and give property owners the right to opt-out of having the company map their homes
- Put protocols in place with law enforcement and local municipalities to ensure that sensitive infrastructure details are blurred from published maps
Are these possible? Practical? Will the government ever have access to the raw data to circumvent these (and other) rules?
So far, these technologies and apps are very new –but you can bet that these kinds of discussions are far from over.