Google and Apple challenged over mapping 'spy planes'

Posted by Emma Woollacott

US Senator Charles Schumer is calling on Google and Apple to withdraw plans for 3D mapping, calling it an 'unprecedented invasion of privacy'.

Both companies are said to be using military-grade spy planes to create aerial maps so detailed that people can be seen sunbathing in their backyards.

According to some reports, the technology is so sensitive that items as small as four inches are visible, and  the interiors of buildings can be seen through windows.

Google's confirmed that it plans to have 3D maps of metropolitan areas available later this year; Apple hasn't confirmed that it's using 'spy planes', but is also promising to introduce its own significantly improved maps app.

"People should be free from the worry of some high-tech peeping Tom technology violating one’s privacy when in your own home," says Schumer.

"It raises important privacy questions and individuals have a right to know when their homes and communities are being mapped – and whether highly detailed images of them and their homes will wind up published online.  By using powerful cameras that can see through your windows and display details of sensitive security sites, Apple and Google will have access to private and sensitive images."

Schumer suggests that the technology could have implications for security as well as privacy, allowing criminals to spy on private homes and terrorists on sensitive infrastructure sites.

He's calling on the companies to warn individuals when their neighborhood's about to be surveyed, blur out individuals and give people the option of blurring out their houses. Sensitive infrastructure details should also be obscured, he says.

"We must strike the proper balance between privacy and technology,says Schumer. "And while the use of this technology may well have very functional and important uses, we need to make sure that reasonable protections are in place to protect individuals and the public."