Google, Inc. has paid $500 million for Skybox Imaging, a start-up company that produces cheaper satellites for earth images and video delivered to customers in as little as twenty minutes. Google's release to investors states "Skybox’s satellites will help keep Google Maps accurate with up-to-date imagery. Over time, we also hope that Skybox’s team and technology will be able to help improve Internet access and disaster relief — areas Google has long been interested in."
This past April Google bought Titan Aerospace, a drone producer, with the intent of providing internet access to smaller, underserved areas, including in developing countries. The statement release at the time reflected the same intent to improve Internet access and be of assistance during disaster relief.
Unease and questions arise that over the fact that Google already tracks and maintains a large of amount of information on individuals and this allows even greater monitoring and access to personal information. It has a far more reaching impact on possible business applications, though. It can get close, really close, images and Skybox states that it can be used to track agriculture, such as pest infestations and be used to forecast crop yields. It can monitor 'conflict areas', which could be used to identify people involved in activities. They use monitoring 'oil storage containers with sub-meter imagery for changes in volumes to inform commodity trading decisions' as an example of a practical application. One of my favorites examples of use is "Access proprietary information to make more informed and competitive investment decisions. Identify changes in relevant metrics like the number of cars in a retailer's parking lot or size of stockpiles of natural resources in ports."
While aiding and monitoring disaster relief is a praise-worthy use, the other examples give many cause for concern. This Wired article expands on questionable Military Industrial applications of such technology. Marcus Wolson writes 'But Skybox CEO Tom Ingersoll told Samuels that the government is interested in his company’s imagery. “In the end,” Samuels writes, “the government will likely commandeer some of Skybox’s imaging capabilities under terms similar to those imposed on other vendors.” With Google now involved, that begins to sound a lot like the NSA commandeering the internet servers to spy on U.S. citizens.'
There are bound to be plenty of Skybox/Skynet jokes made with nervous chuckles about this acquisition. There are already jokes about Google being Skynet that have been floating around for years. With each new purchase, #6 of the Ten things we know to be true Google Company Philosophy starts to be a hope and a prayer moment for the common man.
With great power comes great responsibility, and with satellites the power is enormous.