There are real-time spies in the sky.
The dramatic advances in satellite imaging technology in the last 10 years have privacy advocates worried about 24-hour surveillance. Right now, US federal regulations help keep things in check, so that while commercial satellite imagery is powerful enough, for instance, to see a car, it's not detailed enough to identify the make and model, according to a report from the MIT Technology Review.
Satellite companies say they keep a person's data separate from any identifying characteristics, but Peter Martinez of the Secure World Foundation said that doesn't matter.
"The risks arise not only from the satellite images themselves but the fusion of Earth observation data with other sources of data," Martinez said in an email.
Then there's the sheer volume of satellites overhead. Imaging company Planet Labs confirmed that it has 140 imaging satellites currently in orbit. The report says this is enough to pass over every place on Earth once a day.
"Even with Planet's highest resolution imagery (1m resolution), it remains impossible to distinguish individual people, car number plates, or otherwise identifying information. Our imagery is ideal for monitoring large-scale change on a daily basis. This includes seeing daily change across buildings and roads, forests, in agriculture, bodies of water and more," a spokesperson for Planet Labs said in an email.
Meanwhile, satellite imagery is getting closer to a level that investors and businesses will want to exploit. The goal, Mapbox's Charlie Loyd told MIT Technology Review, is to make a "living map" of Earth.