Eric Schmidt

Google's Eric Schmidt wants a ban on Amazon's drones

December 6, 2013: 11:43 AM ET

Warns that the technology can be used to spy on -- and record -- your private activities.

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Prototype Amazon drone.

FORTUNE -- "How would you feel," Google (GOOG) chairman Eric Schmidt asked in the Guardian last April, "if your neighbour 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?"

Good question. Especially after Jeff Bezos' announcement on 60 Minutes Sunday that Amazon (AMZN) plans to build and deploy across the U.S. a fleet of artificially intelligent delivery drones.

How would I feel about a drone that could snoop on me? Probably the same way I'd feel about a company that monitored all my online activities -- the e-mail I send and receive, the websites I visit, the places I visit, the products I buy, the YouTubes I watch, etc. etc. -- and sold that information to advertisers.

Google's corporate guidelines on such matters were delineated two years ago by what Schmidt calls "the creepy line."

"The Google policy on a lot of things," he told attendees at the Aspen Institute's Washington Ideas Forum, "is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it."

Creepy privacy issues, however, were not Schmidt's primary objections to Amazon's little delivery choppers.

Drone technology, Schmidt warned, could "democratise the ability to fight war" and fall into the hands of terrorists.

"Self-driving cars, though," deadpans Daring Fireball's John Gruber, who dug up the Guardian piece on Friday. "Those are OK."

Apple (AAPL), meanwhile, is trying to make a virtue -- if not a marketable feature -- out of the difference between its business model and Google's. From the Report on Government Information Requests Apple released last month:

"Our business does not depend on collecting personal data. We have no interest in amassing personal information about our customers. We protect personal conversations by providing end-to-end encryption over iMessage and FaceTime. We do not store location data, Maps searches, or Siri requests in any identifiable form."

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