Censorship on Google Maps

"Blurred Out: 51 Things You Aren't Allowed to See on Google Maps." An interesting list.

EDITED TO ADD (1/6): There seem to be a lot of problems with the list. Notably, it includes a story about the Singapore government claiming it had copyrighted its geography, which in fact was an April Fools joke.

Posted on January 7, 2009 at 6:56 AM • 35 Comments

Comments

BernieJanuary 7, 2009 7:35 AM

When the first two items on the list are not blurred at all (as of this posting), you need to take the whole thing with a grain of salt.

BernieJanuary 7, 2009 7:37 AM

Addendum: I'm located in the US. Could someone outside the US (ie, with a non-US IP address), please check to see if the first two items are blurred for you.

BernieJanuary 7, 2009 8:33 AM

@ignacio:

I did read the descriptions. The first two don't look anything like other censored areas that I've seen on Google Maps over the years. Perhaps the first two were "photoshopped" to make them look like normal, empty roofs. But "normal, empty" does not equal "blurry" or "fuzzy" or even a big single-color rectangle.

Or maybe I'm just being anal because I wasn't able to read between the lines. :-)

Mark RJanuary 7, 2009 8:46 AM

I found the reasoning behind the Singapore ban hilarious... the Singapore Land Authority has copyrighted the geographical features of the country, so providing satellite images infringes that copyright? I thought copyright was granted to the creator of a work...

CalumJanuary 7, 2009 8:49 AM

UK here: 1 and 2 are both non-pixellated, though I thought the construction work at the Capitol Building was complete? If it is, it's a pretty old image. Cheney's house is very unsubtley done, which I like.

MaxwellJanuary 7, 2009 8:58 AM

There's a drinking water reservoir near me that is clearly covered by a large pixellated circle. Which is cleverly shaped exactly like the reservoir underneath it. Which, ironically, would actually look like a large, featureless, dark circle from, oh, a few hundred feet up. Just like the similar reservoir that is a hundred yards away. Keeping our secrets safe from terra-wrists!

RubenJanuary 7, 2009 9:01 AM

I assume that list was compiled before Google Streetview was actually deployed in several European cities.

oopsJanuary 7, 2009 9:03 AM

I checked these links while I was logged in to Google account, will I get into trouble :)

GeoffJanuary 7, 2009 9:09 AM

Oh dear... the "Singapore Land Authority copyrights geographical features" story was first broken on http://www.singeo.com.sg/?p=185 in April last year. April 1st, to be precise. You'll be relieved to know that Google Earth/Maps still continue to show the little red dot in quite some detail.

papa zitaJanuary 7, 2009 9:22 AM

Charlie,
Very true. There are places like a city in Colombia that only have a blurry image, probably more due to what is cited in the Ogle Earth link above you than in any nefarious scheme.

How on earth are any of the pictures of private homes illegal? If I took a picture of a home on a private drive and I was on public property or in a helicopter, what possible legal case do they have to keep it from being published? And an entire community is even more ridiculous.

luttonJanuary 7, 2009 9:23 AM

even better than google's satellite view of the Naval Observatory complex is the maps.live.com birds eye view. This link might only work in IE:

http://maps.live.com/default.aspx?...

Another one I was thinking about the other day was the lack of a birds eye view of the US Air Force Academy, but that might be related to the semi-remote location as both West Point and Annapolis are available in the birds eye view. (I was checking out their football stadiums.)

Mark RJanuary 7, 2009 9:44 AM

@ Geoff:

Thanks... I bet that story generated some heated diatribe on the creeping expansion of copyright powers! Sheesh, it's almost like you can't believe what you read on the internet.

LazloJanuary 7, 2009 9:49 AM

I remember there was a training reactor (either 1 or 6 MWt, as I recall) at UF. I recall it being somewhat problematic in that it was using its original fuel from its startup in 1953, which was enriched to a concentration that has since been classified as "weapons grade". Even though it's a very small amount, and even though it almost certainly isn't above the "weapons grade" classification any more, it would apparently be more problematic than normal if they ever wanted to dispose of it.

Anyhow, I was looking in google maps to see if I could see it, but apparently it hasn't been blurred out, making it more difficult to locate. I find that at least mildly amusing.

Alan (2)January 7, 2009 10:19 AM

@Bernie:

I'm in Andorra, Europe. No problema *at all* to see details of numbers 1 & 2 of the list. The other one I looked at was Monjuic Castle (Barcelona, Spain). No problem there either.

Hmmm... this is starting to look like another urban legend ...

NostromoJanuary 7, 2009 10:47 AM

@lutton:
No, your link works in Firefox (tried it on Linux, presumably works on any platform).

RoyJanuary 7, 2009 11:11 AM

On Google Earth I was able to find 5 unblurred submarines at 50.382136,-4.183998 and 7 at 56.020932,-3.452180 .

Todd KnarrJanuary 7, 2009 12:25 PM

@Romeo Vitelli: the Borings didn't object just to their home being shown on Google Maps. What they objected to was how Google got the picture. Their home isn't visible from the public street. Their driveway is gated and clearly posted private and no trespassing. Google's imaging truck had no business with them, witness the fact that the driver never got out and tried to have any contact with them, thus no legitimate reason to be going up their drive like, say, a UPS driver trying to deliver a package to them would have. And that's what they objected to: Google's deliberate and knowing trespass onto private property in pursuit of their own profit. I find that objection fairly reasonable.

Steven HooberJanuary 7, 2009 12:52 PM

> Google's deliberate and knowing trespass onto private property in pursuit of their own profit. I find that objection fairly reasonable.

They need to keep their gate closed if they want to be this paranoid and dickish, then.

I suspect these drivers are like any other. Get the miles down, on route, get on to the next part. They don't read every sign, I'll bet, so did not "deliberately and knowingly" trespass. Accidental, sure.


If I was in a community that banished photos from one of these services, I'd take some spare time periodically to photograph each house on a block near my house, and put them on Flickr with all appropriate tags.

Davi OttenheimerJanuary 7, 2009 1:02 PM

"Google's deliberate and knowing trespass onto private property in pursuit of their own profit."

I think it more accurate to say Google's mindless and disrespectful gathering of private information. Did they ignore a trespass sign? I mean, was it recorded by Street View. That would be ironic. It's not clear the motive is profit, but if they disregarded posted banners and warnings to explore, gather and store data then they do not have much of an excuse.

Also is seems the fact that the Google legal team is arguing that people have the right of refusal AFTER their private space has been exposed is an interesting and arrogant twist. I can only imagine running port scans and doing network maps on private zones and then posting it online; just tell companies that they should use a form to request it be removed if they can come up with a compelling enough reason.

Davi OttenheimerJanuary 7, 2009 1:13 PM

"If I was in a community that banished photos from one of these services, I'd take some spare time periodically to photograph each house on a block near my house..."

Thomas Hawk did a great writeup on this exact issue, at least regarding architecture in San Francisco

http://thomashawk.com/2006/04/...

I don't see Google's side as particularly compelling, especially when they whine about facing down an angry homeowner who feels violated. If the company runs mindless data-gathering bots, then the bots are supposed to mind the signs. A violation should be treated as such and they should update the bot, no?

Wonder if Google's Street View beetle would also be able to argue their way out of speeding and parking tickets with the "it's all accidental" reasoning. If so, I know what I'll be attaching to the roof of my car.

another bruceJanuary 7, 2009 2:52 PM

what's happening in the village of yona, guam to make it so special? have the illuminati finally discovered the omphalos? i demand to know!

WallyJanuary 8, 2009 9:23 AM

I think the Naval Observatory photos are accurate. Have you ever been there? It's just like being in Mario Bros. I was attacked by a turtle!

HellfireJanuary 9, 2009 1:05 PM

I always have wondered how effective blurring out geography is. Certainly the bad guys can and probably do use google maps/earth. I would have to imagine that the coordinates for important landmarks such as the Capital are common knowledge amongst terrorists that are interested. Once somebody figures it out, they just sell or pass on the info.

JohnJanuary 15, 2009 12:27 PM

@papa zita at January 7, 2009 9:22 AM

There was the Striesand civil case though - http://tinyurl.com/9dc8q4 - she attempted but lost.

I bought a camera and cellphone formerly belonging to Barbra Striesand sold on eBay by a memorabilia auction house. Once I charged the cellphone batteries all the 30 speed dial locations were still populated with phone numbers. In light of this her obvious concerns over privacy seemed a bit inconsistent. The lot came with a signed certificate of authenticity but no film in the camera.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..