Written December 2014
What if Google Earth gave you real-time images instead of a snapshot 1-3 years old?
Companies such as Planet Labs, Skybox Imaging (recently purchased by Google), and Digital Globe have launched dozens of satellites in the last year with the goal of recording the status of the entire Earth in real-time (or near real-time). The satellites themselves are getting cheaper, smaller, and more sophisticated (with resolutions up to 1 foot). Commercial satellite companies make this data available to corporations (or, potentially, private citizens with enough cash), allowing clients to see useful images of areas coping with natural disasters and humanitarian crises (see the recent efforts to report on protecting cultural heritage sites using satellites). But this data also could be used to monitor the comings and goings of private citizens. How do we decide what should be monitored and how often? Should we use this data to solve crimes? What is the potential for abuse by corporations, governments, police departments, private citizens, or terrorists, and other “bad actors”?
Satellite Imaging Startups Skybox, Planet Labs Race to Cover Earth (Bloomberg, 2014)
SkyBox Gives Non-Profits Access to Real-Time Satellite Imagery (TNW News, 2014)
Silicon Valley’s New Spy Satellites (The Atlantic, 2014)
Many Eyes on Earth (Nature, 2014)
The potential benefits:
3-D Satellite, GPS Earthquake Maps Isolate Impacts in Real-Time (EurekAlert, 2015)
Spy Satellites Fighting Crime From Space (CNN, 2014)
The potential downsides:
The Ethics of Drone Surveillance is Presaged by What’s Happening with Satellites (ORCHID Project, 2014)
Satellite Video Maps Let Anyone Spy Like the CIA (Motherboard, 2014)
Skybox: Google Maps Goes Real-Time – But Would You Want a Spy in the Sky Staring Into Your Letter Box? (The Independent, UK, 2014)