Do you happen to enjoy the privacy of your backyard from time to time? Have you ever been worried that thieves may be watching your house, waiting for you to leave? Have you ever been to a nude beach? Don’t answer that. I really don’t want to know that sort of thing about you, but perhaps Google does.
Among the many tech companies and start-ups gobbled up by Google this past year, this one in particular should be of immediate concern to privacy advocates everywhere on Earth. Google is now on course to purchase the satellite imaging company known as Skybox. For $500 million dollars, Google is hoping to add real-time updates to Google Maps, as well as help develop their “Project Loon” which involves using drones to spread the Internet access across the globe.
Of course, this sort of technology will be of great interest to corporations everywhere. It’s one more tool in their data collection arsenal, so it’s no surprise that Google has taken an interest in this.
Collecting and selling data is their bread and butter. For now, though, this mapping technology will be used by companies to spy on each other:
In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Skybox co-founder Dan Berkenstock revealed that the company was currently watching the movements of trucks in and out of factories operated by Foxconn – a major Apple contractor – because any increase in activity is evidence that the Californian company is about to ship a new iPhone.
This technology may turn out to be an emerging industry with huge ramifications across the global economy:
Investors will be able to predict the price of food by studying a country’s farmland; they can gauge a gold mine’s productivity by sizing up its slag heaps. One story that’s common in the Skybox mythos is of an analyst at UBS who was able to predict Walmart’s quarterly earnings in 2010 by simply watching the store’s parking lots and calculating the volume of customers.
Of course, we should know better than to think this will only be used by companies to spy on their rivals. Google didn’t get rich off of predicting Walmart’s profits. It earned its big bucks by spying on everyday consumers and their habits. With the helping hand of the feds, Skybox will soon be able to do that and more. A week after Google’s purchase of Skybox, the U.S. Department of Commerce lifted their resolution restrictions of satellite imagery.
Previously, you weren’t allowed to see objects less than 50cm in size. Within the next 6 months, you’ll be able to identify object that are at least 25cm in size. Presumably the technology will keep advancing, and who knows how precise these images will be in the future. There should be no doubt what this level of resolution and real-time mapping will be used for.
When you reach this sort of frequency you can begin to add in what we call ‘pattern of life’ analysis. This means looking at activity in terms of movement – not just identification.
However, Google should know that if they really do begin to offer real-time mapping, and offering it to the public in the same way that they have given us Google Maps, they’re opening a can of worms that they’ll never be able to close. They will be giving the average person the ability to spy right back on their friends at the NSA, and lord knows who else in government. Just as drones were initially developed for military and police use, but may soon become common in the arsenal of protesters and rebels, this real-time mapping may prove to be disastrous for the authorities. Every action has an opposite and equal reaction.
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Joshua Krause is a reporter, writer and researcher at The Daily Sheeple, where this first appeared. He was born and raised in the Bay Area and is a freelance writer and author. You can follow Joshua’s reports at Facebook or on his personal Twitter. Joshua’s website is Strange Danger .