The reach of Google’s online empire is hard to overstate. In a sense, the Google search engine is the loom through which the entirety of the public internet is woven. With tools like Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs, the company also handles many of our private online tasks. Using the data generated by these services to target online ads, Google has built a business that generates tens of billions of dollars a year.
Now, with the $500 million purchase of Skybox, a startup that shoots high-res photos and video with low-cost satellites, Google can extend its reach far across the offline world. Thanks to its knack for transforming mass quantities of unstructured data into revenue-generating insights, the unprecedented stream of aerial imagery to which the company is gaining access could spark a whole new category of high-altitude insights into the workings of economies, nations, and nature itself.
But this acquisition will also demand assurances from Google that it will incorporate privacy safeguards into its vast new view of the world. Already Google gets a lot of flack for tracking user behavior online. With Skybox’s satellites, Google may gain a window into your everyday life even if you don’t use Google at all.