Italy’s Il Corriere della Sera has an article sourcing Saudi Arabia’s al-Watan about how Google Earth has been used by researchers to check up on the orientation of Saudi’s main mosques, only to find that some are not facing in the direction of the qibla, i.e. Mecca.
There is no compulsion for mosques to face qibla, but many newly-built ones do so anyway in order to serve as an aide in prayer. (You need to face Mecca when praying.) My Arabic is not nearly good enough to find the original article, let alone translate it, so here’s the gist from the Italian version:
The culprits are the architects, apparently, who were too lax in their calculations. Saudi researcher Abelaziz al-Ghamidi tells al-Watan that in al-Bahah province alone, 15 mosques were constructed in the wrong direction, among them the central mosque of al-Bahah City. Al-Ghamidi has been using Google Earth for two years now, checking on each and every mosque in Saudi Arabia.
Upon al-Ghamidi’s discovery, the Saudi ministry of Islamic affairs got involved, and it determined that the errors were limited in scope, and thus would not have impacted the validity of the prayers.
I went looking for some mosques in al-Bahah City, and checked up on the two largest I could find:
My conclusion? I think al-Ghamidi has far to much time on his hands.