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BLOG: Google's Eric Schmidt worried about privacy threat from civilian nano drones

Darlene Storm | April 17, 2013
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has privacy concerns about private nano drones being flown by nosey neighbors to harass and spy on each other

Google chief wants to ban or regulate civilian drone use due to security and privacy threats

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has privacy concerns about private nano drones being flown by nosey neighbors to harass and spy on each other. Besides posing too many potential threats to privacy, he also believes that civilian drone technology needs to be regulated due to security concerns that mini-drones could potentially be used as terrorist weapons.

While swarms of tiny insect drones may not yet be available to regular citizens, littlequadcopters with cameras and have been around for a long time. Innovative people are continuallyevolving the capabilities of these small drones. Yet Schmidt said that international treaties should ban inexpensive little drones before terrorists, or everyone else that wants one, can fly one. In an interviewwith the Guardian, which has since been removed because it was "launched early by mistake," he mentioned a scenario of what if "you're having a dispute with your neighbor. How would you feel if your neighbor went over and bought a commercial observation drone that they can launch from their back yard? It just flies over your house all day. How would you feel about it?"

Ironically, Schmidt thinks the $1,500 Google Glass does not need regulated because it "provides a way to help spread democracy around the globe. Glass empowers people to quickly get information and record what is around them." Schmidt may not believe Glass poses potential privacy issues that need regulated, but plenty of privacy-conscious people do. The Google Glass wearable computer will have "a high-resolution display equivalent of a 25-inch high-definition screen from eight feet away, and will capture 5-megapixels images and video at a resolution of 720p."

Schmidt's concerns seem to be mostly centered on civilian drones. "It's got to be regulated... It's one thing for governments, who have some legitimacy in what they're doing, but have other people doing it... it's not going to happen." It is unclear if Google believes it has legitimate rights to experiment with "spy drones" as it was accused of doing three years ago. Some privacy advocates would also disagree about the legitimacy of government drone use. While Glass, like drones, could record people without their permission, government drones can use a high-resolution video camera that could send a video stream to the ground where it could be fed into the FBI's nationwide facial recognition system.

While trying to explain how Google is "super-sensitive on privacy," Schmidt told the Guardian that Google killed its "really good" facial recognition product. He said, "Facial recognition, completely unmonitored, can be used for very bad things. It can be used for stalking, for example. You know, it's just we don't want to be part of that as a company. There are cases where facial recognition can be used, but they need to be fairly carefully boxed."


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