A little while ago we brought you news that New York Senator Charles Schumer had sent a letter to Apple and Google expressing concern with the privacy implications of the two companies’ recently-announced 3D mapping updates.
By the time the previous story ran, neither Apple nor Google had yet responded to requests for comment. Google has since issued an official statement on the situation:
We take privacy very seriously and appreciate the Senator’s concerns. We met with his office to demonstrate how the imagery used to develop our 3D models is similar to what’s already publicly available in 2D mapping products. We currently don’t blur aerial imagery because the resolution isn’t sharp enough for it to be a concern.
In other words, this new 3D imagery isn’t really much of a privacy concern at all. What’s more, these 3D models aren’t anything new. Google has been using satellite imagery in both Google Maps and Google Earth for years, and has included 45-degree angle views of numerous locations in Google Maps for months. Unlike Street View, neither Google Earth nor the 45-degree images, nor the 3D maps have resolution sharp enough to present the level of privacy concerns Senator Schumer suggests. While such concerns may be relevant to Street View – and are addressed by Google’s automatic blurring technology and options for requesting an image be blurred – the aerial images simply aren’t clear enough.
In fact, a person familiar with the matter informed me that when it comes to aerial, users are actually more likely to request more detail, better resolution, and faster updates. For example, during wildfires in California in 2010, rapid updates to Google Maps data helped users get a clearer picture of the damage.
So, while imagery with the level of detail Senator Schumer claims would, perhaps, present privacy concerns, the fact is that neither Google’s nor Apple’s 3D images nearly sharp enough to, for example, show someone sunbathing or barbecuing in their backyard.