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Congress: Google Is “Airbrushing” Katrina

From an outraged Associated Press:

House panel: Why did Google ‘airbrush history?’

March 31, 2007

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AP) — Google’s replacement of post-Hurricane Katrina satellite imagery on its map portal with images of the region before the storm does a “great injustice” to the storm’s victims, a congressional subcommittee said.

The House Committee on Science and Technology’s subcommittee on investigations and oversight on Friday asked Google Inc. Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt to explain why his company is using the outdated imagery.

The subcommittee cited an Associated Press report on the images.

“Google’s use of old imagery appears to be doing the victims of Hurricane Katrina a great injustice by airbrushing history,” subcommittee chairman Brad Miller, D-North Carolina, wrote in a letter to Schmidt.

Swapping the post-Katrina images and the ruin they revealed for others showing an idyllic city dumbfounded many locals and even sparked suspicions that the company and civic leaders were conspiring to portray the area’s recovery progressing better than it really is.

Andrew Kovacs, a Google spokesman, said the company had received the letter but Schmidt had no immediate response.

After Katrina, Google’s satellite images were in high demand among exiles and hurricane victims anxious to see whether their homes were damaged.

Now, though, a virtual trip through New Orleans via Google Maps is a surreal experience of scrolling across an unscathed landscape of packed parking lots and marinas full of boats.

Reality, of course, is very different: Entire neighborhoods are now slab mosaics where houses once stood and shopping malls, churches and marinas are empty of life, many gone altogether.

John Hanke, Google’s director for maps and satellite imagery, said “a combination of factors including imagery date, resolution, and clarity” go into deciding what imagery to provide.

“The latest update from one of our information providers substantially improved the imagery detail of the New Orleans area,” Hanke said in a news release about the switch.

Kovacs said efforts are under way to use more current imagery.

It was not clear when the current images replaced views of the city taken after Katrina struck August 29, 2005, flooding an estimated 80 percent of New Orleans.

Miller asked Google to brief his staff by April 6 on who made the decision to replace the imagery with pre-Katrina images, and to disclose if Google was contacted by the city, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey or any other government entity about changing the imagery.

“To use older, pre-Katrina imagery when more recent images are available without some explanation as to why appears to be fundamentally dishonest,” Miller said.

Edith Holleman, staff counsel for the House subcommittee, said it would be useful to understand how Google acquires and manages its imagery because “people see Google and other Internet engines and it’s almost like the official word.”

Google does provide imagery of New Orleans and the region following Katrina through its more specialized service called Google Earth.

How hilarious. Oh, yeah, the suffering from Katrina is being whitewashed by Google because they are not still showing the worst of the devastation in their Google Earth gallery.

Maybe Congress should look into the airbrushing that has gone on for years in Google’s regular image stock.

Try Googling for images from 9/11, and see what you get.

And in case anyone has any doubts about the political agenda of Google Earth, this story from France’s AFP:

Google maps World Wildlife Fund efforts

Mon Mar 12, 12:59 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – Google on Monday added details of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) environmental projects to its popular global online mapping service.

The Mountain View, California, Internet search powerhouse wove WWF images, information and Website links into its Google Earth program.

"This joint initiative will allow WWF to spread its conservation message to a vast new audience," said WWF director general James Leape.

"People interested in conservation and the environment now will be able to visit WWF projects in some of the worlds most threatened and biologically diverse places from their home computers."

Google added 150 projects of Switzerland-based WWF to a showcase of the world’s natural wonders, famous haunts, and man-made changes that it debuted in its global mapping service in September of 2006.

Google Earth offers "Featured Content" ranging from details of the Three Gorges Dam in China and King Tut’s tomb in Egypt to Itsukushima Shrine in Japan and Pablo Picasso’s favorite social spot in Sweden.

Google provides the information in "multimedia overlays" that users can trigger while viewing a virtual globe.

Icons designate natural wonders, major landmarks or cities, and environmental changes such as deforestation in the Amazon and a shrinking glacier in Iceland.

"Were pleased that the WWF has chosen Google Earth as a platform for sharing their incredibly important conservation work," said Google Earth and Maps director John Hanke.

"Google Earth has proven to be a powerful resource for the environmental community and for users wanting to learn more about the world around them."

Yes, it sure sounds like Google would want to downplay the tragedy of Katrina.


It turns out that Google’s political agenda doesn’t stop with the environment.

The great Zombietime has pointed out a Google Earth peculiarity originally uncovered by Israel’s Ynet News:

Jerusalem’s Borders as Seen on Google Earth

Google Earth, the zoomable satellite photo program produced by Google, shows the Temple Mount in Jerusalem as not being in Israel, but being entirely as part of the West Bank (Palestinian Territories). In fact, a substantial portion of eastern Jerusalem is shown as not being part of Israel.

This randomly placed straight line completely ignores the geo-political realities on the ground and contradicts every international border designation that has ever been agreed upon or even proposed.


And from the original Ynet News article:

Google Earth reveals anti-Israel sentiments, labels Temple Mount Palestinian

January 17, 2007

While Jerusalem serves as Israel’s capital, and the Temple Mount is located within Israeli sovereignty, the popular satellite map program Google Earth divides the city and places the Temple Mount — Judaism’s holiest site — within Palestinian territory.

Interactive Google Earth maps mark eastern sections of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount as "occupied territory," set to become part of a future Palestinian state.

Google Earth states it demarcates its maps according to international standards, but no Israeli-Palestinian negotiations — even the failed Camp David final-status negotiations in 2000 — ever placed the Temple Mount within Palestinian territory…

Google Earth does not limit its input in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Jerusalem alone.

The Gaza Strip is labeled by Google Earth as "Israeli occupied," even though the Jewish state withdrew from Gaza in August 2005…

Google Earth is also accused of showing falsified images. Visitors to Google Earth who click on an area just outside Jerusalem can view a computer-generated image claiming to depict an Israeli missile factory…

Referring to Google erroneously labeling the Gaza Strip as occupied, the [Google] spokeswoman said, "Borders and place names are not always updated straightaway. Occasionally there are discrepancies. We are happy to receive feedback and will pass it on to the Google Earth team and take the necessary steps."

Yes, it sounds like an honest mistake.

It could have happened to anyone.

(Thanks to Eagle334th for the heads up on the Zombietime link.)

This article was posted by Steve on Saturday, March 31st, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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