Would you like to know what your neighbor is up to? Perhaps take a peek in their window? Thanks to Microsoft, there may soon be no need to crouch behind the bushes – just get on the Net.

As a general rule, we’re not in the “Microsoft is the evil empire” camp. We really have no problem with the fact that Bill Gates is wealthier than a fair number of nation-states. We didn’t raise any objections when we heard rumors of a Microsoft takeover of the US federal government. (First of all, we knew they wouldn’t really go through with it once they had closely examined the government’s books. Secondly, they could probably do a whole lot better job of running things than the politicians and bureaucrats now in control.)

We don’t particularly care whether you use Microsoft’s or Netscape’s browser to read our site; with design this bad, it can’t make much difference. When we heard that Microsoft was buying off journalists to write pro-Microsoft articles we did take offense, but only because they never approached us. (If they had this article would, of course, have a completely different point of view.)

It wasn’t until Big Brother Bill launched the web’s largest database that we started to shiver.
Terraserver is ostensibly being used to test Microsoft’s ability to handle mind-bending amounts of data.

The first idea was to take every transaction in New York Stock Exchange history and put it into the database. But no; that
would only amount to one-half terabyte of data.

The only thing that would fill up enough room – over a trillion bytes of data – is a map of the world. How much data is contained in the maps? More than all the html pages already on the web. More than one billion business letters. The amount of data in two million books.

But enough about size. Let’s talk about your backyard, and what you’re doing there. And with whom. If we can’t find you in your backyard, perhaps we’ll look through your bedroom window. All this, and more – much more – will soon be possible, thanks to
the miracles of satellite photography.

Right now you can go to the Terraserver site and look at satellite images of about a third of the United States and various parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. Currently, resolution is only sufficient to identify objects two meters across; still good enough to pick out your neighbors backyard.

Microsoft’s plan is to develop a universal database of images down to a much finer resolution. Soon the database will include almost the entire globe at a one meter resolution, and more detail is coming. Microsoft chief technical officer Nathan Myhrvold is heralding a future where “You could put sensors on the world’s rhinos and see in real time where they’re going.” Of course, if you can follow rhinos in real time, you can also follow other animals, like human beings.

The idea of using such photographs to “zero in on polluters” has already been raised. (Do you have a permit for that wood burning stove in your backyard? Let’s see it! ) Been frolicking in the pool with your lover? We’ll be enjoying the photos. Satellite photography is a voyeurs dream come true.

Microsoft is not the first to invade your privacy. The governments of many countries have been taking satellite photos during the last 40 years. In fact, some of the photos on the Microsoft site were taken by Russian spy satellites. US intelligence agencies can see, but not read, a car license plate with photos taken by satellites 100 miles above the earth.

Fortunately, you could normally count on the incompetence of national security agencies to prevent much real damage being done. Satellite photos have also been available from some private sources for years. For example, Spot Images of France has been selling such photos with 11 yard resolution images. But Terradata is the first site to provide truly public access to such photos – and its free!

Anyone who has followed the amazing progress of technology knows that high resolution photographs of just about anything are just around the corner. Those of us who lead spotless lives of immaculate virtue have no cause for concern: everyone is welcome to watch us as we go through our normal daily routine of providing assistance to widows and orphans.

If, on the other hand, publicly available photos of your private life might make you blush, beware. And before you do anything of which your mother, big brother or Bill Gates would not approve, just remember – we’ll be watching!

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0 thoughts on “WE’RE WATCHING!


    Time: 7/18/98 (12:0:48)

    I found the images to be a little spooky, but this is all clearly a technology showcase. I can’t honestly believe that Microsoft, or any company, would be interesting in pooling realtime satellite images. Furthermore, even if realtime hi-res images where available, it’s not like you could use that to spy on anyone more than looking out the window of an airplane during takeoff or approach. Terraserver is hardly what I would call a prelude to a world-wide “Truman Show”. What bugs me most is that Microsoft project is tauted as the largest on-line database…. hardly. IBM has a bigger, far more intellectually noble project called the Patent Server. (http://patent.womplex.ibm.com)

    I have been to http://terraserver.microsoft.com, and most of the pictures, at least all of them I have seen are anywhere from 2 to over ten years old, so there is nothing on that site that is particualry scarry

    Time: 7/14/98 (14:57:31)

    This is just a ‘little’ intrusion compared to what our ever intrusive government wants to do. We after all are the ‘enemy’ according to the trading with the enemy act. Read it! Our government under the Clinton mob has done more to steal our Constitutional rights than Roosevelt ever did and in a more sneaky arrogant manner. Don’t believe it? spend time in the presidential documents pages of the federal register but you must have a sneaky mind yourself—mind in the evil empire mode like slick willie because finding documents is not easy. Always type in Executive order directive agreement decree etc or nothing much really sprouts up. A recent executive order suspends the 10th amendment! By ( imperial) presidential decree! It took alert web researchers to post this decree and expose Clinton’s wannabe King tendancies, he plans on mor decrees and they’ll not be in your interest at all.

    If we want to be free, we’d better be ready to fight for it, the feds and their overlords in the Committee of 300 want us dead or as slaves….

    Now would be a good time to check in with your Lord because the only one left to trust is God.

    I wonder if Windows 98 wasn’t developed by MS with the support of our government. If you are you using IE that you got with 98 you can set accept no cookies under advanced options and then go out on the net. Then go to your internet temp files and guess what, you will see cookies with a date that is after you set not cookies. Interesting isn’t is. This might even be something that you might want to put on your rage page. If they can do that than we know that they can and probably do go in to our own PRIVATE computers and do their snooping. And we live in a FREE SOCIETY????????

    Time: 7/11/98 (10:21:47)

    your right that the technology is old.. and that right now, the pics aren’t too clear. The one thing that bothered me about the other post, is the attitude that WHEN it happens, we should be outraged. by that time, it doesn’t matter how outraged you are, the wheels have around started turning and can’t be stopped. the thing that worries me about this kind of upcomming technology is what it can be produced into. We already monitor our soldiers in the states, during training manuvours, and we have a chip, that can be placed in our pets so that they can be traced if lost. what happens when the two are combined, and WE are now the ones being traced by satilites. what we have now doesn’t scare me, where we are likely to go with it, terrifies me.

    Hey, give Bill a break. The Defense Department has been photographing our license plates from outer space for years! None of that second rate 2 meter resolution stuff for them. Oh, and their images aren’t 12 years old either! Wouldn’t surprise me one bit if DOD has a shot of Monica and Bill doing it on the White House lawn!

    I’m outraged at a few of the responses here! First of all, if we don’t have a right to privacy, then why are some people sued for invasion of privacy. The law DOES state that we have an expectation of privacy, which is being violated when MS peeks into my backyard. And this whole being-outside-puts-you-in-public-view crap is sensless. I guess if you’re outside of your house, but within your fenced or walled yard, then you’re in public view. WRONG. The saving grace of this site is that the pictures are several years old and their aren’t enough satilites to keep up-to-the-minute photos everyone’s yards.

    Hmmmmm.. well I went to the site… and my town isn’t on it…. wondering if I did go out there and falsh Bill.. how long it would be before he sees the pic! I would hope he saw it before I died of old age!

    Time: 7/5/98 (12:16:10)

    Thanks for the tips on the peekaboo web sites. Be “seeing” you real soon.

    Well….. I am on my way out to the back yard to flash Bill Gates! … Hmmmmm, better check my make-up first!

    Time: 7/4/98 (17:4:35)

    Microsoft’s Terraserver may be huge but like many other oversize things tends to be a little clumsy–the site seems to be always overloaded and not accessible for retrieving data except at odd hours of the day.

    Whoa! Found my house, but I still can’t see my winkie. Word to the wise though, If you’re planning to sunbathe in 1953, you might wanna take a towel. 8 Terabytes?!? How many floppies is that?

    First of all, let me say that I really enjoy your website.

    I don’t feel threatened by a twelve year old satellite photo of my neighborhood. However, if they ever could provide real time photos, look out for your privacy.

    this seems to be a rather lame idea by microsoft, considering that the internet archive (www.archive.org) has a database that’s about 8 terabytes and growing…

    I decided to go to the terraserver website and see for myself what all of the hoopla is about. Frankly, I am about as unimpressed as I can be with a website.

    You guys/gals got me all worked up and figuring I could check out my neighbor’s wife’s alleged nude sunbathing and what did I see? NOTHING!! In fact, that whole map thing is nothing more than a lick and a promise. The majority of it isn’t even covered.

    I’d say of all the threats there are to my privacy this one is the least of my worries.

    Your faithful reader,


    An entertaining and enlightening essay!!

    Hey…more power to ’em. They can zoom in on on my backyard anyday with their super duper satellite cameras. If they are lucky, they might catch me taking a leak off the back porch. On a good day I can hit the ol’ lady’s flower bed six feet away!!

    Dear The Outrage,

    I was interested to read about the “buying off” of journalists.

    Does this refer to an offer here in UK for free use of the Internet by major servers being advertised in journalists’ journals?

    Sounds a bit sinister to me.


    Re: Sunday, June 28, 1998 WE’RE WATCHING!

    While the idea of being watched from space is not comforting, the idea of turning these “eyes” on the politicians and bureaucrats makes me salivate.

    The advantages could very well outweigh the disadvantages to those who know how to expoit them.

    Your “outrageous quote” from Judge Bork is not outrageous at all. It’s merely a statement of fact.

    If you’ll read the Constitution, you’ll discover that there is no right to privacy mentioned. The so-called “right to privacy” is something dreamed up as cover for the murder of 30 million unborn children, but it certainly does not have a Constitutional foundation.

    I have just come across your site and thought maybe it would be a good source for a different view of the news. But if Microsoft’s Terraserver is your idea of an outrage then maybe you need to reconsider your editorial policies. Before that sophmoric mishmash was written did anyone there do any research on physics of imaging the surface of the Earth from space? Did anyone even visit the site? There are definitely dangers associated with the powers technology can and will unleash but providing satellite photos on the internet is not one of them.


    Time: 6/29/98 (20:46:9)

    First i want ti thank you for sending me this info but it’s always been my opinion that whatever you do outside your home is in public view, wheather in your back yard or downtown. One always has to be careful what they do outside in the public view. If you dont want what your doing to be seen by anyone dont do it outside. Go inside. Its that simple. Now when they develop something that can see thru my walls in my home, let me know, then Ill start to worry.

    Does it bother you that email is being forwarded to all and sundry that Bill Gates is the antiChrist? I just got one today that shows a lot of things about him and his system that add up to the number of the beast – 666.

    The fact is that if the powers that be had the technology to genetically type, structure, mutate, and/or kill preconceptually, at a cost that wouldn’t offset any of their vacations it would be common practice. They’d not hesitate to crawl into our very blood vessels. I can’t believe anyone is surprised by this “unveiling”, much less outraged.

    As for Microsoft and Bill Gate’s part in the whole thing, it’s happening. Someone’s gonna get rich or richer as a result of it. Why not good ole Bill?

    If you’re “frolicking in the pool with your lover” and that lover is 1 or 2 meters in breadth (3.3 to 6.6 feet), you have a problem other than Bill Gates.

    This site is not much more that a novelty, and probably years behind what is technically capable. That is what you need to be outraged about. If you want to be really outraged, here is a list:

    1. National Historic Rivers Initiative.
    2. Transportation Dept. Dept National ID card initiative.
    3. Clinton’s Executive Order 13083.
    4. ” ” ” 11478.
    5. ” ” ” 12879.

    I think this is on the right track. I have said for years that when mankind has developed to the point that mental telepathy is automatic we will have a good world. A clean mind thinks no evil.

    Time: 6/29/98 (9:9:42)

    Normally I agree with your subject matter, but in this case it’s a bit of a stretch, and I’m less than outraged. Now when the technology reaches the point where I can be identified and apprehended for spitting on the sidewalk; only then will I be outraged.

    And Judge Bork is quite correct that there is nothing in the Constitution which gives anyone a right to privacy. Such notions were alien to eighteenth century thinking.

    Your outrage is more than a little overwrought in this case. Keep in mind that the image data on the Microsoft site is only a snapshot of a given location. (The image for my locale, for example, dates from 1988). There is not anything like continuous surveillance, which would require site storage and bandpass millions of times greater than present capability, even if the spacd based sensors were available, which they aren’t.

    Second point, what was that little dig about the incompetence of government spy satellite technicians? Historically, “National technical means” have provided needed intelligence back when we were serious about national defense. If you’re referring to the recent failure to predict the Indian and Pak (to use Sandy Berger’s diminuitive) nuclear explosions, you can lay that at the feet of the Clintonistas.

    Finally re the hit on Bork, perhaps you would be so good as to show me where in your Constitution privacy is explicitly guaranteed as a fundamental right?

    Best wishes in spite of this,
    Rod Anderson

    I’m not overly concerned that Microsoft made this available to the public. Since it was the tax payers that paid for this thing, it should be made available!

    Concern should be that the Government developed it (and not for our viewing pleasure!). It is a tool they use, and perhaps against the same people that paid for it.

    As much as I like Microsoft products I very leery about software that can track your every movement. Military types or FBI or the CIA will get ahold of this when it is perfected better and not only use it again enemies of this country. They will also use it to keep track of everybody in this country also. I know this sounds like conspiracy theory the movie or something like that but I do believe that it will be used against us. Then you will really know the meaning of Big Brother is watching you. If they didn’t develope it someone else would. I don’t trust our government enough to let them have this power over us.

    I went to the site and looked around. I got an ill feeling, knowing that my privacy, as well as other people’s privacy, is in jepoardy. Now I’m wondering what next? I see this as a way for Big Brother to monitor us. Also wondering if this is a part of the New World Order. Truthfully it makes me sick when I can’t sit outside and Bar-B-Q without wondering who is watching me now.

    I was a bit scared when I read today’s posting about Microsoft making the world it’s backyard and turning real time peeping Tom/busy bodying into a hobby.

    You may be pleased to know that my suspicion was confirmed when I went on this site to test what Africans have known for years that Africa is not a part of the global community especially from the point of view of Americans.

    Nigeria is a West African country with 100 Million people, and in fact thecountry with the most black people in the whole world.

    I went to this site to find Idumota which is a comercial center in Nigeria, and I could not find it, I also tried Victoria Island with the same result.

    Abuja is the capital of Nigeria but alas, it does not form a part of Bill Gate’s global backyard.

    My conclusion is that people from my part of the world should not fear Bill Gate.

    I tried the site – got a long way to go – and the maps/pictures aren’t exactly new developments.

    second – In this country at least – what one does in the open has generally been considered as available for public view. The fact that someone has seen my house – or even seen my backyard with me in it, is not going to cause me to flip out.

    When they get to the point of superman’s x-ray vision – let me know. In the meantime – thanks for the url.

    So I decided to go to the Microsoft Terracotta site and spy on my neighbours. Only one problem. Turns out there were only three houses on my street in October 1986 when the posted picture was taken. Can’t say I’m too worried about my neighbours spying on me from twelve years down the road.

    Been there. Done that. Got the picture of my house. Me thinks your fears are unjustified. In my case,at least the photo was SEVEN YEARS OLD dated April, 1991.

  2. The Interior Department’s burning down of New Mexico is certainly an outrage! I think that the Department’s budget should go to pay for the entire rebuilding and restoration of all the damage. If one year’s budget is not sufficient, then subsequent year’s appropriations should be used to pay for the restoration!

  3. i think that the fact that poeple can do this is pretty darn amazing! i dont think it should be stopped, and i also think normal people should be able to access it.

  4. Well, wouldn’t you know? The screenshots are not updated. So it isn’t real time. So, Bill Gates can’t spy. Why? Note the word “Waste of Money”.

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