Google and Apple have been at it in the news lately. Recently, Apple booted Google maps of its default apps for iOS6, the operating system for the iPhone. This means that the previously favored Google was kicked down a notch as the default mapping app for Apple. In its place, Apple has its own in-house mapping application.
Why is this a big deal?
This obviously means the loss of advertising revenue for Google because some users will not be able to use their Google maps app. They have to go through a few hurdles in finding and downloading the Google maps app on the iPhone. But, this goes much deeper than that. This is all about who owns the digital mapping business space. Considering that Apple iPhone has an installed base of over 360million users – that’s a large audience base that Google has to fight tooth a nail to preserve. That’s why both companies are stepping it up a notch when it comes to mapping services. The next frontier is 3D. Google Earth and Google Maps have attracted a lot of controversy in the past because they would unwittingly capture private information and embarrassing pictures through the street view service. Now, the stakes are much higher because according to concerns raised by Senator Charles Schumer of New York, both companies are using camera-equipped spy planes to take pictures of people’s backyard.
Substantively, this aerial footage is to give users a 3D view of a particular map. Instead of looking at a flat surface that looks very static and one-dimensional from a top view, the plane-based shots allow for a 3D view that lets the viewer look at a particular location from different vantage points. While this is really nifty when you’re on Google or using apple’s mapping app to check out a particular location, it is quite embarrassing and uncomfortable if you happen to be caught by the mapping cameras doing something that you don’t want people to see and you are doing it in the privacy (at least, you thought) of your own backyard. These are the concerns raised by Senator Schumer’s team. Apparently, these cameras are so sensitive that they can image objects as miniscule as 4 inches. Think about it. These are planes flying high up in the air being able to pick up and photograph pictures as little as 4 inches. Both companies tried to downplay the concerns because they are saying that the images shot are blur out licensed plates and other personal identifying information. Also, they are claiming that the resolutions of the images taken aren’t really sharp enough for it to be a privacy concern. Apparently, Schumer’s team begged to differ. It would really be interesting how to solve pants out.
This latest incident of the collision between information gathering and indexing and the public’s insatiable thirst for information and individual privacy really highlights the generation of sea change between Apple and Google looking to index and capture as much information as possible for public consumption and more traditional conceptions of privacy. We’ve already seen earlier skirmishes of these with street view and plane-based mapping campaign really step up the debate a notch or two. We would really be surprised if the issues raised by this current practice don’t go further that it has so far.