Google’s New Orleans update gets US govt scrutiny

Catching up on the news with AP:

House panel: Why did Google ‘airbrush history?’

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.

Whereas in some parts of the world, governments fret that Google is revealing too much of their sovereign lands, in the United States government frets that Google is revealing too little. Am I the only one who thinks this is highly ironic? I feel compelled to add that this is not an April Fool’s post.

While I applaud and agree with the sentiment that newer data is better than older data, certainly after a natural disaster or war, throwing the US House Committee on Science and Technology subcommittee on investigations and oversight (what a mouthful) at this is ridiculous. It should be none of anybody’s business other than Google’s when it comes to prioritizing where it spends its money on updates. Governments are in the wrong when they try to censor imagery, and they are in the wrong when they try to compel a private company to provide a specific service.

I give Google a hard time when it acquiesces to censorship attempts, and I’d give them a hard time if I’d think they were in cahoots with New Orleans to make the place look more attractive for some kind of financial benefit, but I think that this particular conspiracy theory is among the sillier ones I’ve heard of late.

Meanwhile, Google has apparently gone into damage control mode, releasing a statement which you can read below the fold.

One final comment: This should put to rest any doubt, if there still was any, that Google’s geospatial imagery database has become the global default reference. When something is this universally useful, governments tend to want a piece of it.

Google’s statement:


In order to publish the best data possible, we must take into account a combination of factors including imagery date, resolution, and clarity. The latest update from one of our information providers substantially improved the imagery detail of the New Orleans area. The detailed imagery was taken before Katrina.

We are working to update Google Earth with more current New Orleans imagery, and continue to make post-Katrina imagery available on a dedicated website:


Immediately after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Google Earth coordinated efforts with the United States coastal guard to get the most current data possible into our databases. Imagery from different agencies was collected on our servers in an effort to get representations of the devastated area that were in the highest quality available and more easily accessible to the public than ever before. As a result, teams of people formed across the country were able to analyze affected topographies using Google Earth, which significantly improved relief efforts.

One thought on “Google’s New Orleans update gets US govt scrutiny”

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