Google has agreed to acquire the drone-maker that Facebook was reportedly courting earlier this year. The company, Titan Aerospace, will continue to operate from its New Mexico office.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The Wall Street Journal reports that Titan Aerospace’s drones will be used to improve Project Loon, the company’s attempt to use aerial vehicles to deliver Internet connections in far-flung corners of the world. They will also be able to take high-resolution images, offer access to voice networks, and carry other atmospheric sensors.
The acquisition comes shortly after reports that Facebook also expressed interest in Titan’s drones but ultimately chose to create a team of engineers who used to work at NASA and the Ascenta drone startup. That team provides the foundation for Connectivity Lab, a group at Facebook dedicated to connecting more people to the Internet in partnership with the Mark Zuckerberg-backed Internet.org nonprofit. It intends to use drones the same way Google does.
I wrote about Facebook’s drone-in-the-sky ambitions when they were first reported in March:
Drones wouldn’t simply allow Facebook to bring Internet connectivity to more people; they would also allow the company to gather information about its users in even more ways. Considering the ease with which that information could be intercepted by intelligence agencies and the fear with which many regard drones, that will be easier said than done.
If it looks like a government drone, spies like a government drone, and transfers information to the same intelligence agencies as a government drone, chances are it will be viewed with the same fear as a government drone.
Good luck, Zuck.
Many of the same principles would apply to a Google drone. Both companies seek to gather as much personal information as possible to sell to as many advertisers as possible to continue building their war chests. Both companies wish to connect more people to the Internet and say that it’s for altruistic reasons when others would argue it’s really about making sure that they can exert even more control over those Internet users than they do over people already addicted to their products. And both companies plan to use drones in parts of the world where “drone” is more synonymous with “flying death machine” than either Facebook or Google would like.
Indeed, Facebook refused to refer to its drones as drones when it announced Connectivity Lab:
Now it seems that Facebook also recognizes that announcing its own personal drone program might not endear it in the hearts of all the people it’s trying to connect to the Internet and subsequently convince to sign up for Facebook for the purpose of selling their personal information to advertisers. That leaves us with this game of Euphemism Bingo, where Facebook avoids referring to its drones as drones while everyone else wonders what they’re supposed to call an unmanned aircraft that hovers above the clouds for months at a time.
At least Google is willing to thumb its nose at its own efforts by dubbing them “Project Loon.”