Silicon Valley start-ups getting into the “spy” business

The race to profit off of private-sector satellite surveillance is giving the NSA some competition

Topics: satellite, spies, NSA, satellite technology, Surveillance, surveillance state, ,

Silicon Valley start-ups getting into the "spy" business

Click-bait, or cold reality? The headline for Robinson Meyer’s article in the Atlantic about three Silicon Valley start-ups and their plans to make money off satellite photography of the earth is “Silicon Valley’s New Spy Satellites.”

This is true in the sense that anyone who uses a camera without the subject knowing that a picture is being snapped is a “spy.” It’s not quite true in the sense that the start-ups at issue, Urthecast, Planet Labs and Skybox, are not generating data primarily for governments looking to surveil their own citizens. (Although this may be at least partially the case for Urthecast, which is benefiting from access to Russian technology and guaranteeing Russia sole ownership of Russian imagery.)

What’s really happening here is that three start-ups are aiming to profit off new advances in satellite technology and the hunger for data of all kinds. It’s a private-sector surveillance play. Corporate competitors who want to peek at how crowded Wal-Mart’s parking lots are. Commodity future speculators eager to know how much Midwest farmland has been devoted to corn or soybeans.

Very soon, it’s likely that it will be substantially easier to buy recent, high-resolution imagery of the Earth’s surface. Large companies will have access to the same global quasi-omniscience as the world’s powerful governments. If successful, these startups will consolidate power.

The methods are different: Urthecast is attaching cameras to the International Space Station, Planet Labs plans to stuff the sky full of cheap, practically disposable satellites, and Skybox appears to be aiming to be a sort of above-the-clouds platform for satellite imagery data analytics. But the message they send together is simple: We’re all spies now.

Andrew Leonard
Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 10
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Michael Ohl/Museum fur Naturkunde

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Soul-Sucking Dementor Wasp

    Latin name: Ampulex dementor

    Truong Ngyuen

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    10,000th reptile species

    Latin name: Cyrtodactylus vilaphongi

    Jodi Rowley/Australian Museum

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Colour-changing thorny frogs

    Latin name: Gracixalus lumarius

    Judith L. Eger

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Long-fanged bat

    Latin name: Hypsugo dolichodon

    Neang Thy Moe/FFI

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Stealthy wolf snake

    Latin name: Lycodon zoosvictoriae

    Michael Janes

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Feathered coral

    Latin name: Ovabunda andamanensis

    Jerome Constant

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    World's second-longest insect

    Phryganistria heusii yentuensis

    Nantasak Pinkaew

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Slide 8

    Latin name: Sirindhornia spp

    Tim Johnson

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Slide 9

    Tylototriton shanorum

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...