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US Senator calls out new Apple and Google 3D mapping systems

20 Jun 2012
capitol hill

US Senator Charles Schumer has voiced his concern with Google's and Apple's new 3D maps, warning that they could infringe upon the public's privacy.

Senator Schumer has written a letter to both Apple chief executive Tim Cook and Google chief executive Larry Page asking them to rethink their implementation of new 3D mapping technology.

"By taking detailed pictures of individuals in intimate locations such as around a pool, or in their backyard, or even through their windows, these programmes have the potential to put private images on public display," he said.

"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."

The senator alleged that the new maps will use footage from military-grade spy planes capable of capturing images of objects as small as four inches. He fears that the precision of the new footage could allow for criminals to look into homes or map out detailed blueprints of sensitive government buildings.

The Senator is calling for Google and Apple to reduce such fears by implementing useful guidelines.

Schumer asked that both companies notify communities before conducting a mapping, blur photos of citizens caught on camera, offer opt-outs to homeowners who don't want to take part in mappings, and work with authorities to make sure sensitive infrastructure information is blurred from maps.

Some privacy watchdogs agree with Schumer's assessment. UK privacy group Big Brother Watch stated similar concerns in a blog posting when 3D mapping technology was first introduced.

"On the whole, Street View only shows you images that any member of the public would see walking down the road. The next generation of maps is taking us over the garden fences and beyond people's windows. You won't be able to even sunbathe in your own garden without worrying about an Apple or Google plane buzzing overhead taking pictures," wrote Big Brother Watch.

"It shouldn't be for companies to decide if a super hi-resolution image of your home is made available online - and if the motivation of the companies is profit, its essential laws and regulations recognise this very quickly."

Google, meanwhile, said it understands the concerns but says 3D mapping will work in a similar fashion to what is already available in 2D maps. The search giant also assures that the aerial imagery isn't sharp enough to be an issue.

"We take privacy very seriously and appreciate the senator's concerns. We met with his office to demonstrate how the imagery used to develop our 3D models is similar to what's already publicly available in 2D mapping products," a Google representative told V3.

"We currently don't blur aerial imagery because the resolution isn't sharp enough for it to be a concern."

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James Dohnert

James is a freelance writer and editor. In addition to ClickZ, his work has appeared in publications like V3, The Commonwealth Club,, and Shonen Jump magazine. He studied Journalism at Weber State University.

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