Big Brother, Microsoft, Are Watching
Microsoft’s got friends in high places. One friend, anyway-the U.S. Department of Defense. A branch of the DOD known as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) will work with the software giant on Microsoft’s Virtual Earth mapping project, which will be used for both military and non-military purposes.
This announcement comes soon after a judge’s ruling that Microsoft must continue to endure federal oversight, at least through November of 2009. This came as a result of the numerous antitrust cases against the company.
In terms of the more civilian uses of Virtual Earth, Microsoft says the program will be used to help direct emergency cleanup. This isn’t a new development; “the program was used during Hurricane Katrina last year to direct first responders and government branches,” according to the company.
It remains unclear what the military purpose(s) of Virtual Earth is intended to be. A vague reference to “national security efforts” is all that was mentioned in the announcement of the joint effort. The NGA itself is classified in a similarly unclear way as a “Department of Defense combat support agency.” The word “combat” lends itself to certain dark interpretations of the technology’s potential applications, however.
In its current state of development, Virtual Earth is nothing more threatening than a useful mapping tool. Highly comparable to Google Earth, it provides maps, directions, and satellite and aerial imagery.
This announcement is sure to spawn a lot of conversation, and probably more than a few conspiracy theories. Maybe, though, due to the Microsoft antitrust agreements, the DOD will have to involve Google and Google Earth. And with their former motto of “do no evil,” that might make everyone sleep a little easier.