• United States



Apple and Google Maps: Will eye-in-the-sky ‘spy planes’ place our privacy at risk?

Jun 11, 20124 mins
AppleData and Information SecurityEnterprise Applications

Apple kicked Google Maps to the curb, but some privacy experts warn that both Google and Apple "spy planes" used for mapping present a risk to our privacy.

During the keynote at Apple’s 2012 annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), there was plenty of hype for Mountain Lion and how iOS 6 will support a plethora of 200 new features, but the new Apple Maps app will most likely cause the most privacy concerns. Apple has kicked Google Maps to the curb and is using “military grade-cameras” and “spy planes” which will provide iOS 6 “flyover” mapping. As Neowin eloquently put it, “Apple officially reveals new maps app, gives Google the bird.”

While watching the live blogging and the photos posted on MacRumors, the new mapping solution showed turn-by-turn directions and ETA functionality “using anonymous real-time crowdsourced data right from iOS users, to keep traffic fresh and up-to-date.” The 3D map mode shows wireframes of what buildings look like. “Zoom in far enough and you see buildings. Tap on a point of interest to get an info card.” Besides satellite view, there was a user-controlled flyover that was specified “This is not a movie. This being rendered in real-time.”

The Inquirer reported the “Apple spy planes spark privacy fears,” which seems based on the Mail Online’s “beware the spy in the sky.” Privacy is at risk, according to Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, and it’s a “commercial ‘race to the bottom’. The next generation of maps is taking us over the garden fence. You won’t be able to sunbathe in your garden without worrying about an Apple or Google plane buzzing overhead taking pictures.”

Last week Google added features to its mapping and Brian McClendon, vice president for engineering at Google Maps, wrote about “the never-ending quest for the perfect map.” He said the new style of 3D maps should cover “communities of over 300 million people” by the end of the year. At the press conference, Google said it had a billion monthly active users of Google Maps. It also outlined plans “for a fleet of aircraft to provide 3D city modeling, offline storage of detailed maps, using StreetView on skis and snowmobiles and the mapping national museums and monuments with backpack 360 degree cameras.” Lifehacker added that you’ll be able to preload Google Maps on your Android phone and save your wireless minutes or navigate when there is no reception.

But unveiling the new Google Maps was a mistake on Google’s part, according Massive Greatness because it showed “anxiety over Apple maps.” Conversely, The New York Times summed up Google’s announcement as, “In other words: Hey, Apple, are you going to be able to do that?”

Yet whether it’s Google or Apple Maps, EPIC’s Amie Stepanovich said when it comes to privacy, both companies may be forced to “blur out homes.” She said, “With satellite images, privacy is built in because you can’t zoom down into a garden. Homeowners need to be asked to opt in to show their property in high definition – otherwise it should be blurred out.”

And as for Microsoft Maps, we only heard the chirp of the crickets; no one is currently raising a privacy ruckus. At one point Microsoft had been working on auto-generated 3D imagery in Virtual Earth, but it abandoned the project.

Once I’ve tried out the new mapping features, I’ll know more, but currently I’m more concerned about drones being used in America.

This is not a spy plane, yet it may have “mapped” one girl’s heart. An iPhone was sent high into the sky to make this video. As behind the scenes explains, it’s also probably the first marriage proposal from space. Hint: She said yes.

OpenSite presents Now Is The Time

Like this? Here’s more posts:
  • Get ready for more TSA pat-downs
  • Study Finds 1 in 2 Americans are ‘Clueless’ about Webcam Hacking
  • Inception-like Remee lets you take control of your dreams
  • Microsoft ‘sorry’ for raunchy Windows Azure video with dancing girls, bad sexual lyrics
  • Sanitize Microsoft Office: How to remove personal metadata
  • Trolling Terrorists with Propaganda: The US hack of al-Qaida that wasn’t a hack
  • Male or female, who’s the better social engineer? Battle of the SExes!
  • Emergency Windows patch stops Flame malware from spoofing Microsoft security certificate
  • SOPA supporters meet in secret to strangle Internet freedom & online speech
  • Feds investigate who leaked classified Stuxnet cyberattack details to NYT
  • This is why people pirate Windows
  • Hacktivists UGNazi attack 4chan, CloudFlare and Wounded Warrior Project
  • FBI Creates Surveillance Unit to Build Backdoors into the Web

Follow me on Twitter @PrivacyFanatic

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.