"Ask Nicely" Doesn't Work as a Security Mechanism

Apple’s map application shows more of Taiwan than Google Maps:

The Taiwanese government/military, like many others around the world, requests that satellite imagery providers, such as Google Maps, blur out certain sensitive military installations. Unfortunately, Apple apparently didn’t get that memo.


According to reports the Taiwanese defence ministry hasn’t filed a formal request with Apple yet but thought it would be a great idea to splash this across the media and bring everyone’s attention to the story. Obviously it would terribly embarrassing if some unscrupulous person read the story and then found various uncensored military installations around Taiwan and posted photos of them.

Photos at the link.

Posted on October 11, 2012 at 7:03 AM28 Comments


John October 11, 2012 7:52 AM

It’s interesting that military organisations are still building installations which can be readily identified from aerial imagery.

The German’s learned that lesson (V2 factories, bunkers and mobile launchers) before the engineers for these buildings were even born.

vwm October 11, 2012 7:55 AM

Well, when those pictures are commercially available already, anything beyond asking nicely might not be worth the effort…

Probably there are some “Security through obscurity” versus “Hiding in Plain Sight”-jokes hidden somewhere around that story.

Jay from BKK October 11, 2012 8:09 AM

@Adam I’m betting that China already have subverted a meaningful percentage of the employees of those facilities rendering moot any concerns over images.

rhr October 11, 2012 8:39 AM

So if I want the governments of the world to hand me a list of secret military bases, all I have to do is start a sat-map website? Sweet!

Peter A. October 11, 2012 9:24 AM

I still have no idea why militaries insist on doing such things. If some commercial satellite/aerial photo company has photos of their bases already, they may safely assume all their enemies have even better photos. What could a lowly Joe Googler do to their bases that their enemies cannot?

wumpus October 11, 2012 9:37 AM

@Peter A.

You are assuming that a military’s only enemy is another military. Another real fear (at least for the ones controlling the military) would be anyone who might get in the way of the military’s budget. Grassroots tax complaints are going to have a greater problem (unless somebody’s nephew at google slips them the file).

The NSA cryptography museum is likely of interest to anybody on this site. It ends with a memorial to those “who died in silence”. Once you realize that the secrecy (at least to extent after death) was entirely for the NSA budget (the Soviets knew who’s plane it was when they shot it down), it becomes much more chilling.

Fred P October 11, 2012 10:05 AM

@No One-

There are plenty of public domain photos of Area 51. It’s an old lake basin that dried up – making a lot of rather flat terrain that has cover from nearby observation.

This makes it nice for testing experimental aircraft (although I’m not certain that that’s what it’s presently used for).

The wikipedia article has pretty good photos and analysis of the site – including information on the status of the runways.

moo October 11, 2012 11:52 AM

Obviously they put more value on having their enemies (and allies) know they have a military base there, than they do on keeping it secret.

Northern Realist October 11, 2012 2:49 PM

@kronos — Those tactics pre-date the days of satellites — check out a book called “To Fool a Glass Eye”. And for later fooling satellites or other high altittude observers, it was also found that just painting a shadow on the ground worked very well. There were similar efforts used in the World Wars (especially in World War II) to hide factories, military vehicles, etc. The Germans even modified the way a harbour front look from the air so tht it would throw off the initial-aiming-point for air raids; one of the aircraft companies in California built a town overtop of its hangers…

A51 October 11, 2012 5:39 PM


That happened at Area-51 when they were testing the U-2. They would build cardboard mock-ups of fake planes and put them on the runway when the satellites were scheduled to pass over.

Murray October 11, 2012 8:06 PM


I don’t think anyone had satellites with cameras when the U2 was being tested. After all, wasn’t the U2 project addressing this particular requirement?

Coyne Tibbets October 12, 2012 8:59 AM

It seems to me that the cat is already out of the bag.

Even if Google blurs it for most of the people on the world, there’s certainly someone at Google who saw it.

All the other governments saw it.

There’s no secret to keep. Asking anyone to blur any installation out is kind of like playing air guitar: You’re just fooling yourself.

Chelloveck October 12, 2012 9:22 AM

Sounds to me like classic misdirection. The photos don’t show anything important, but the military loudly requests that they be blurred. This entices the enemy to think the photos show something important, and to waste time and effort trying to figure out what important thing is hidden at the innocuous location. And, more importantly, deflects scrutiny from the real location of the nuclear facility and/or alien spacecraft.

I can’t think of any examples offhand, but I’d be absolutely shocked if this hasn’t already been used as a pivotal plot point in some screenplay.

Clive Robinson October 12, 2012 11:05 AM

You have to wonder at why this story happened…

As others have noted above the un fuzzed images are not the best around (you can buy images from the likes of SPOT that have better resolution) and it’s not as though Taiwan is that big that a couple of high flying commercial flights could not photograph sufficiently well to give a very much higher resolution of “points of intereset”.

The only conceivable excuse these days is to reduce information available to ‘Protesters’ who are called ‘Domestic Terrorists” these days (“real terrorists not realy being interested in such targets).

Even the idea of “misdirection” does not wash these days with multispectral cameras provinding false colour overlays that can strip camouflage and potentialy many feet of soil/rock of buried bunkers etc. Then there are the various other types of sensors that can be regarded as the equivalent to range measurment devices which can distinquish the hight of crops and how well they are growing. Then there are other sensor providing spectral content of the plants leaves etc giving an indication of what minerals etc are in the soil they grow upon. Even sticking bunkers and such like under lakes and seas just doesn’t cut it as various magnetometers etc (wave to those air and space bourn SQUID) detect minute anomalies that indicate the use of energy etc.

If you want to hide something these days put an office block ontop of it or make it look like an office block as they do with oil wells in places like Paris.

Oh and if you are going to fake an office etc remember either no car park or move the cars around and run their engines for a while otherwise they are a dead giverway that you are faking something. Likewise remember bodies produce about the same heat as a 100W fillement bulb and move around during the day so do effect IR signitures on the top floor and anywhere aircon systems are running.

Oh and the problem with an open country like most Western Nations is you can pretty much go where you like and so can a spy, so either close up photos of the buildings or “stay away” signs will be a dead giverway to another Nations Intel Organisations.

Cellar October 13, 2012 5:13 AM

“Ask nicely” doesn’t work as a privacy mechanism either, yet that’s still the gold standard.

Sam Stickland October 15, 2012 9:50 AM

Clive, do you have a link/further information about the disguised oil wells in Paris? Sounds interesting.

Autolykos October 16, 2012 5:38 AM

@wumpus: So they demand protection from democracy. Please remind me why we are granting it in the first place.

Clive Robinson October 17, 2012 6:16 AM

@ Sam Stickland,

Clive, do you have a link/further information…

Sorry I can’t find a link specificaly to it. It was back in the 1980’s somebody discovered that the geology under Paris and environs and wanted to drill test wells to find what was there [1]. In order to passify the locals who were most definatly not keen the Total SA test drills in the Champs-Elysees were “hidden” behind false building fronts. Most of the test drills were dry and later one or two that were not actually had real buildings put over the top as well.

However even though central Paris it’s self was not destined back then to be a major production site. It was actualy found that the best area was some fifty or so miles outside of Paris towards the champagne and brie producing area. And at it’s peak in 1988 it was producing around 40,000 barrels a day which has dropped back to around 10,000 currently.

What however brought it back to mind was a chat with a French friend a few days ago apparently there was a bit of an uproar prior to the French Presidential ellections in France because a US company had been given experimental permits to start shale oil fracking under Paris [3], and apparently it’s started again. My friend being somewhat younger than me (most people are 😉 was not even aware that for over a quater of a century the Parisian countryside and one or two back streets of Paris have been oil producers…

16 months ago the previous uproar had caused the legislators to put forward laws to ban Fracking.And this caused the companies involved significant problems,


[1] Back in the late 1970s early 1980s back befor Digital Signal Processing had made it out of the computer research labs the geological sismic “echo sounding” of strata using large quantities of explosives [2] and geophones did not work to well in busy cities due to urban noise drowning out any signals.

[2] Apparently for some strange reason people setting off large quantities of dynamite around Paris was considered unpopular with the locals many of whom had lived through WWII.

[3] Currently Vermilion Energy Inc., Toreador Resources Corp and partner Hess Corp. are targeting oil trapped in Paris Basin shale rock previously thought too hard to extract, and Vermilion has told the industry it has had positive results so far in the Paris Basin. However the techniques developed to do this known by many under the collective term “fracking” uses various explosive hydröooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooootechniques to blast water and chemicals to pulverize the rock and release hydrocarbons from the shale. This process which has supposadly revolutionized and significantly boosted U.S. natural gas production since 2006, is unpopular with the French populous in the area [4]. So much so that it’s caused significant delays and prompted Craig McKenzie (Toreador’s CEO) to say, “If the Paris Basin was in West Texas it would already be drilled and would have pretty substantial production”.

[4] Even in the home of Fracking the US it is very unpopular and has been accused of much damage to the environment and water supplies. For instance the gas-rich Marcellus Shale running from West Virginia down to New York has had 1,785 wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania’s portion since 2008, However New York regulators have under public preasure placed a moratorium on Fracking because of what has been said is the high likely hood of pollution of groundwater in what is a high population density area of the US.

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