Google ogles: Sen. Schumer fears highly detailed spy-plane maps

Big brother is watching -- but just how much can he see?

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is raising the red flag over new mapping services from Apple and Google that reportedly use “military grade” cameras of much higher resolution -- high enough that the eyes in the sky can capture details of ordinary people relaxing in their backyard.

“Barbecuing or sunbathing in your backyard shouldn’t be a public event,” Schumer told Metro New York. “People should be free from the worry of some high-tech Peeping Tom technology violating one’s privacy when in your own home.”

Both Apple and Google announced major new mapping initiatives in the past weeks, marking a new battle to digitally map the world as accurately as possible. Google announced 3D maps for entire cities on June 6; five days later, Apple unveiled a brand-new mapping service all its own, which also includes 3D maps and offers “photo-realistic interactive 3D views.”


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Such technology will surely allow us to reach our destinations faster and more easily than ever before, but the potential risk to our privacy has many worried. Concerns that these maps might see too much were first raised by Nick Pickles, director of U.K. privacy group Big Brother Watch.

"The images are expected to be so detailed that they will be able to reveal objects four inches across," he wrote after Google's announcement.

Now Sen. Schumer is seeking answers.

“After reports that Apple & Google [are] using spy planes to create new online maps, [I’m] calling 4 protections so private images aren't made public,” the senator wrote on Twitter late Sunday night.

Schumer wrote a letter to the two companies, the Metro reported, asking them to alert communities when planes were overhead mapping the area, and even demanding a feature that would allow individuals to opt-out, blurring their images in the maps.

He also requested that sensitive infrastructure such as power lines and ports be omitted from the maps, so that terrorists and criminals can’t rely on the detailed maps to plot out their attacks.

Both Google and Apple told that the Senator's fears are unfounded, however: The company's maps simply aren't that high quality.

"We appreciate the senator’s concerns and we look forward to meeting with him 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 spokeswoman said.

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

An Apple representative said its maps are blurred, whether or not that's an necessary step.

"We do not display any personally identifiable details such as faces or license plates. Additionally, we create optimized pictures taken from multiple shots and remove moving objects such as cars and people from the final image," Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet told

"We set incredibly high standards for privacy," she said.