APPLE has recruited a private fleet of aeroplanes equipped with military standard cameras to produce 3D maps so accurate they could film people in their homes through skylights, according to reports.
The US software giant is expected to announce this week a new "Maps" programme for iPhones and iPads allowing users to view images previously out of reach to anyone but the intelligence services.
Producing images of streets, homes and gardens so clear they will show objects just 4in across and display the sides of buildings as well as their roofs, the product is aimed as a direct challenge to Google Maps.
The technology is understood to have already been tested in 20 cities across the world including London following Apple's acquisition of C3 Technologies, a Swedish 3D mapping business, last year.
Google, Apple's arch rival, last week announced plans to generate 3D maps for entire metropolitan areas for use on its mobile devices, which will also involve the use of cameras mounted on aeroplanes.
In recent years the search engine has been heavily criticised for its use of Street View cars which photographed entire cities from street level and, the company later admitted, secretly harvested personal information from unsecured household wifi networks.
Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch privacy campaign group, said the new technology was more invasive than Street View because it would "take us over the garden fence".
"You won't be able to sunbathe in your garden without worrying about an Apple or Google plane buzzing overhead taking pictures," he told the Sunday Times.
Apple was not available for comment. Google said in its announcement last week: "Since 2006, we’ve had textured 3D buildings in Google Earth, and we are excited to announce that we will begin adding 3D models to entire metropolitan areas to Google Earth on mobile devices.
"This is possible thanks to a combination of our new imagery rendering techniques and computer vision that let us automatically create 3D cityscapes, complete with buildings, terrain and even landscaping, from 45-degree aerial imagery. By the end of the year we aim to have 3D coverage for metropolitan areas with a combined population of 300 million people."