Schumer questions Apple, Google about use of ‘spy planes’

Sen. Charles Schumer (D.N.Y.) is questioning Apple and Google about the use of “military grade spy planes” for map photography and urging the companies to blur out individuals who are caught by the cameras.

In a letter sent Monday to the two tech giants, Schumer questioned the companies about their plans to snap detailed images of towns and cities for map products and said he worries the practice violates people’s privacy.

He noted that some of the sensitive cameras can capture images of objects just four inches wide.

“I fear that this clarity may allow your mapping programs to take detailed pictures of people in intimate locations such as around a pool or in someone’s backyard,” he wrote.

{mosads}Apple recently announced plans to dump Google Maps from the iPhone and iPad and launch its own map service. The move is expected to spark a “map war,” as the two companies compete to offer more detailed and accurate services.

Google announced its own plans to use fleets of planes to create 3D maps for its Google Earth product. 

But Schumer said people should not have to worry that planes are overhead taking pictures of their private events. He also expressed concern that criminals and terrorists could use detailed images of utilities and other infrastructure to launch attacks. 

Schumer asked the companies to notify communities when they plan to take pictures for the maps, to automatically blur photos of individuals and to allow property owners to opt out of having photos taken of their home. He also urged them to work with law enforcement to blur pictures of sensitive utilities.

A Google spokeswoman said the company doesn’t blur aerial imagery because the resolution isn’t “sharp enough to be a concern.”

“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,” the spokeswoman said.

Google automatically blurs faces and license plates on its Street View service, which takes ground-level photos from cars. The company also offers a reporting system so people can ask for other items to be blurred.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

Tags Chuck Schumer

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