Focus on Technology
2:00 pm
Wed July 16, 2014

Google takes a closer look

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Peering down to earth from one satellite now and eventually 24, Google is expanding its view, and some say its influence in the universe.

In June Google bought Skybox Satellite for $500 million. Images from the high resolution satellite are updated daily and users with special software can zoom in on things like crops and construction or see how full oil containers are at a Saudi oil field.

Take a look at one such example where the Burj Khalifa skyscraper casts a shadow over Dubai.

In a very short news release from June 10, 2014 Google said this:

Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) announced today that it has entered into an agreement to buy Skybox Imaging for $500 million in cash, subject to adjustments. 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.

Richard Harknett, a University of Cincinnati professor who specializes in security issues, questions Google's motivation. "If a government had the capacity to track us, most people get sort of hyped up about that."

Public Citizen is bothered by Google’s acquisition of Skybox. It has asked U.S. energy and trading regulators to investigate. The Register, a British publication, reports the merger could give big players in commodities trading an unfair advantage. It’s unclear if this purchase will prompt government regulation, but Harknett sees it eventually coming.

He says, "Now what and how they (Google) manage that capacity, I think, is the bigger issue that we really haven't gotten our heads around tremendously in terms of both individual privacy regulations."

Harknett likens the privacy problem to what we’ve already dealt with in the healthcare industry.

The purchase of Skybox comes just in time for Google. Last month the U.S. government lifted restrictions on more detailed satellite images. The BBC reports one imaging company, Digital Globe, applied to the Commerce Department to lift the restrictions. That company’s Worldwide 3 satellite is scheduled to launch in August detailing everything from manholes to mailboxes.