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Censorship Earth Google

Debunking the Google Earth Censorship Myth 294

waderoush writes "There's a persistent Web meme to the effect that Google obscures sensitive or top-secret locations in Google Maps and Google Earth at the insistence of national governments. A July IT Security article promoted on Digg, 'Blurred Out: 51 Things You Aren't Allowed to See on Google Maps,' revived this notion. But the article has been widely criticized, and I did some fact-checking this week on the six Boston-area locations mentioned in the IT Security list. As it turns out, not one of the allegedly blurred locations has degraded imagery in Google Maps, as my screen shots demonstrate. My post looks into the sources of the misleading IT Security piece, and of other mistaken rumors about Google Maps."
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Debunking the Google Earth Censorship Myth

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  • by toby ( 759 ) * on Saturday September 27, 2008 @10:27PM (#25181603) Homepage Journal
    Nice work on Boston, champ.
    • by Chrismith ( 911614 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @10:50PM (#25181711)
      I only looked at the first few locations on the list, but several of them were obviously blurred or pixelated -- the Naval Observatory in DC is a perfect blurry circle amid high-res imagery, and the Air Force Base listed as #4 looks like someone inserted a mosaic art piece over the image.

      Did this guy really not look at these locations? Those were in the top five, and there are links to the Google Maps locations in question, for crying out loud.

      • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @10:54PM (#25181743) Homepage Journal

        Did this guy really not look at these locations?

        Maybe google knows his IP address.

      • by museumpeace ( 735109 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @11:42PM (#25181989) Journal
        I work at one of those facilities and know damn well that LAST YEAR a coarse resample was laid over the campus where I work. Google has recently [last two or 3 weeks i think] updated the imagery for eastern massachusetts. I know because my new neighbors house suddenly appeared in google satellite view and it went from winter imagery to summer...which is a huge drop in information, btw because of tree canopy. The newer images do not blur the facility I work at but then neither did the old ones when they first came out. Just give 'em time.
        • by inKubus ( 199753 ) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @01:28AM (#25182441) Homepage Journal

          It's a well known fact that the imagery providers have to obscure certain things. Just because a few of the images mentioned in the story turned out to be unobscured later doesn't mean they weren't at the time of the writing. The images are updated quite regularly, and once Google's satalites start working it'll be even more freqent.

          Yes, it's censorship to obscure the imagery, but it's a tough balance to strike. Yes, information wants to be free. And as a taxpayer, it could be argued that you have a right to see whatever your government has been spending your money on. But people in other countries do not. Furthermore, the plans and everything for most of these buildings are located in the bottom of a filing cabinet in a dark basement room with a sign on the door that says "Beware of Leopard". That said, it sure is cool to look at government stuff, and the imagery being available makes it real easy.

          For me, it's fun to find black helicopers and such, but that's basically it. It's just fun to look at stuff. I like those 'eyeball' things over at cryptome.org [cryptome.org] also. The risk is pretty low that someone would be able to plan an operation or something with just the image data. So they take away the fun to hopefully mitigate a small amount of risk.

          On the flip side (again), there seems to be so many secrets these days. Too many, if you ask me. But, hopefully they know what they're doing.

          Soon people will be able to upload their own photos to the view, like in that Microsoft thing, but on a 3d globe like Google Earth. People taking photos from passenger airplanes and such. More private aerial photos and satellites with small resolution and lower latency. It will happen. Google is on the right track with GIS, I think it'll be the killer app of the 2010's. Google has the power to pull everything together, it might take a while but soon there will be a nice parallel universe inside their datacentres. Unfortunately in that world, it makes extreme paranoia as actionable as extreme information gathering.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by pvera ( 250260 )


        I like to check out through google maps places I used to be stationed at while in the US Army over a decade ago, and I can clearly see how most roofs are showed as white rectangles, and antenna pads are whited out so you can't see in which direction they point. This is on both training facilities and in active duty stations.

        In the case of a medevac heliport all you can see is whited out taxi areas and pads, while at the same level of detail in a civilian facility you can easily follow the lines pa

        • by Kagura ( 843695 )
          Can you give some examples? There are large swaths of super bright concrete at many US Army airfields, but I don't see anything that amounts to censorship. Which is strange, because the NSA HQ at Fort Meade, MA [google.com] is perfectly viewable (in high-res!), yet you say a basic Army base is classified. :)
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by PhilHibbs ( 4537 )

        Did you really not read the article?

        "As Google has acknowledged in the past, there are spots, such as the U.S. Naval Observatoryâ"home for another 116 days to Vice President Dick Cheneyâ"that have been deliberately blurred or pixelated by the companies that sell aerial imagery to Google. (See image at left. You can click on this image and all of the images in this article to see larger versions.)"

        So Google didn't censor it, the company selling them the images did, that's what the article says.

  • Well their #1, the White House [google.com] worked, so I call shennanigans! GRAB YOUR BROOMS!!!
    • by Tuoqui ( 1091447 )

      No they didnt mean 51 places blurred out they meant Area 51... You know where they have the Alien bodies hidden.

    • I heard that the White House's roof is photoshopped to obscure the sniper positions and stuff like that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 27, 2008 @10:35PM (#25181645)

    Who should I believe? You, or my lying eyes?

  • by BeBoxer ( 14448 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @10:36PM (#25181653)

    Error establishing a database connection

    They sure blurred him out fast.

  • Digg? Inaccurate? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Goldberg's Pants ( 139800 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @10:37PM (#25181659) Journal

    You mean an article that was inaccurate or just flat out wrong was massively promoted on DIGG? No, I simply can't believe it.

    Digg: It's like Slashdot if concussed monkeys took over.

  • by FlyByPC ( 841016 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @10:41PM (#25181673) Homepage
    Check out the Naval Observatory [google.com] in Washington, DC. Definitely pixelated -- but the cars just outside the circle are quite visible.

    ...Not that Mr. Cheney is the secretive sort. Perish the thought!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 27, 2008 @10:48PM (#25181705)

      FWIW the Naval Observatory is blotted out in all satellite photos. It's my understanding that this is a "national security" requirement and (besides it being a no-fly zone) satellite and areal photography are required by federal law to obscure it. Since Google still buys most of these pictures from other people, I wouldn't blame Google for this one, per-say...

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Per se [wikipedia.org].

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Dan541 ( 1032000 )

        FWIW the Naval Observatory is blotted out in all satellite photos. It's my understanding that this is a "national security" requirement and (besides it being a no-fly zone) satellite and areal photography are required by federal law to obscure it.

        That's like placing a sign on an aircraft.

        "No Hijacking"

    • Maybe that is because the USNO contains primary frequency standards, so any attempt to take accurate photographs would result in a violation of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      I suspect that most of these had been obscured at some point in the past, such as these natural gas tanks [google.com] in Boston. IIRC, they were quite pixelated a mere 6 months ago, but are no longer due to change in policy or whatnot. I remember noticing just a few of these (around Boston, of course), so I can't speak much against the others. But with that in mind, I think it's pretty unfair to discredit the 'Blurred Out' article; it may be outdated, but it's not necessarily a myth.
    • An observatory seems a pretty odd place to censor. Why is it a secret? Is it something they're looking at? What are they doing at the Naval Observatory that they don't want us to know about?

  • Rye Playland (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lpaul55 ( 137990 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @10:45PM (#25181689) Homepage Journal

    Playland, the amusement park in Rye, New York, also shows up as blurred compared to the surrounding suburbs:
    http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=52.248722,4.43965&spn=0.3,0.3&t=k&q=52.248722,4.43965 [google.com]

    Cannot imagine why!

  • The Whitehouses roof used to be blanked out with matte tan. Now it isn't. The pentagon also used to be blanked out. I looked at these locations myself a long time ago. More recently I was surprised to see them unblanked.

    • Re:Outdated (Score:4, Interesting)

      by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @10:58PM (#25181761) Homepage Journal
      Maybe it is still blanked by something more plausible?
    • Maybe they realized that Washington and the surrounding area contain several tall structures that a potential terrorist could use to take pictures of the roofs of the buildings in questions without having to go through an internet service.

      Or if you're the paranoid type, maybe they made them clear again but got Google to report anyone who looks at them, so they can feed that into their data mining programs.

      • I'm guessing USGOV asked them to sensor all "sensitive areas" 'pending review', and finally decided there was nothing worth blocking.

  • I doubt Google censors things unless they have to. While I rather have nothing censored I suspect they're, unfortunately, forced to censor some areas.

    Unfortunately people are too thick to realise that terrorists would probably visit the area they want to bomb to scope it out rather than visit google maps.
  • by Neffirithion ( 950526 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @10:57PM (#25181757)
    Post removed for being in violation of Patriot Act
    • by seriv ( 698799 )
      That case was obvious censorship. Street view was up less than a year ago in Hyde Park, and then it just disappeared once Obama started to look more serious and once the secret service started to ramp up their efforts. Seems like if they are going to destroy an hour or two of work done by an actual person, they would have no problem blurring the work of a quick satellite passover.
  • hmmm (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thatskinnyguy ( 1129515 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @11:02PM (#25181781)
    I find it odd how the Perry nuclear power facility [google.com] in Lake County, Ohio was sensitive enough to be blurred for the longest time but Davis-Besse [google.com] and Fermi [google.com] just up the coast of Lake Erie were not.
  • by ChrisCampbell47 ( 181542 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @11:06PM (#25181809)

    I discovered today that Ramstein airbase in Germany (hugely important to US) is "whited out". At first I just thought it was a really big building, then I thought white concrete surfacing. Finally I realized that it was blacked out, but they tried to make it look like it wasn't. They even threw in a a few fake aircraft and shadows, but didn't quite make it past the uncanny valley. It's just a matter of time until they perfect the fabrication of imagery for those locations.

    See for yourself; that ain't real. [google.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Actually, I think someone just used a magic wand type tool and then maxed out the saturation.
    • by icejai ( 214906 )

      All the roads surrounding the airport are all messed up as well; almost none of them match up with the pictures. And, they're all labelled "Flugplatz".

    • It appears that it is a construction site. Look at this one:

      Huntsville Alabama airport runway extension [google.com]

      See how the runway ends, goes through a field and then re-appears after the construction? I think the airbase is a victim of stitched together imagery that joins two photos taken at different times.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Also, here is another photo:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:RamsteinAB.jpg [wikipedia.org]

        Looks to me like there is a lot of pavement.
        • by pz ( 113803 )

          Also, here is another photo:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:RamsteinAB.jpg [wikipedia.org]

          Looks to me like there is a lot of pavement.

          Yeah, I think the GP post is looking for a conspiracy where there isn't one. If you look at the Google version in the GP post, lots of other buildings' tops are saturated out by overexposure. The large expanse of saturated white with hints of shadow in question matches very nicely to, as the parent post put it, "a lot of pavement," or, maybe, a lot of concrete pavement. No trickery involved, just a badly exposed photo in the Google map.

    • by Eil ( 82413 ) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @12:53AM (#25182291) Homepage Journal

      Sorry, but that sounds like conspiracy talk. To me, the white area looks like just a big newly-constructed concrete ramp. I've been seen and been to a lot of airports, so I know what a ramp looks like.

      If you look at the top and bottom, you see areas that are still under construction. Some taxiways and even portions of the runway are bright white. What possible reason reason could they have for "whiting out" the runway's threshold and blast pads? The overall white area doesn't look anything like a building and all the actual buildings are arranged around it, just like any other airport. If you scroll around a bit, you'll see other areas that are nearly white but plainly older because they have streaks of gray running through them.

      Back in the day, I understand that satellite photos used infrared to generate fairly visually-accurate monochrome images of the ground. On those, thick forests and bodies of water should show up black while roofs and roads would be a lot lighter. I would take a wild guess that the satellites which capture images these days use infrared to enhance the visible light photo and brand-new concrete reflects a whole bunch of the sun's infrared back at the camera. This oversaturates that area on the picture and makes objects on the concrete difficult to see. But that's just a theory. I'd appreciate hearing from someone who knows how it really works.

      • I've been seen and been to a lot of airports, so I know what a ramp looks like.

        Good for you! So do I. Now, come on, do you really think the location I pointed out is such a case? Look hard before rushing to defend your "+5" position.

        Meh, whatever, I'm going back to watching Sara Benincasa videos [youtube.com].

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 )

      Some of the newer bases, like the US CENTCOM complex in Qatar was designed to be low-observable from recce, electro-magnetic and optical. There are some good photos from back in '02 on globalsecurity's site under public eye.

  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @11:20PM (#25181893)
    I tried reading the Google cache of your post, but it was blurry.
  • It's not all due to nefarious Google-Corporate-Conspiracy. I know you guys like to think it's all one big giant conspiracy to keep nerds from ruling the Earth, but it's not true. Close up Google views are from airplane photos, not satellite photos. If airplanes can't fly over an area then you don't get good pictures of it. If the airplane photos belong to the government and they don't include them in the database, you don't get good pictures of it. It's as simple as that for most things. If something is del

  • I tried a couple toward the bottom of the list. The train station in White Plains, NY is indeed blurred, as is the GE campus in Schenectady.

    Some locations in the vicinity of Goonhilly Downs in England used to be blurred, but they aren't any more. You might expect this from countries with different ideas on security and privacy, but places like Buckingham Palace and Vauxhall Cross show up just fine, and you can count how many subs are moored in Polyarnyy.


  • New York State blurs tank farms, but you can see the blurring on their imagery, so no, it's not Google.

  • by MrSteveSD ( 801820 ) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @12:11AM (#25182139)
    chemical weapons factory. I hope that the hidden area on the map doesn't drawn anyone's attention. And therein lies the problem with obscuring secret locations on maps. The mere act of obscuring it announces it.
  • The Niagara Falls power station and reservoir DID used to be blurred out. After seeing this article, I checked again and it is clear as day. Some corporate/government drone probably just adjusted the rules of what needs to be censored and what doesn't.

    If censorship of google maps images is a myth, then so are evolution, global warming, and the round earth "theory".

  • There is a Sydney harbor bridge crash in earth just zoom in and try to go up it.

  • by jonfr ( 888673 ) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @12:27AM (#25182203) Homepage

    This article is BS. As anyone how bothers to see there are places on google earth that are blurred or cut out and replaced with green fields.

    Here are two examples.

    http://maps.google.com/maps?t=k&q=52.109911,4.326597&ie=UTF8&ll=52.109912,4.326596&spn=0.00456,0.009549&z=17&iwloc=addr [google.com]
    http://maps.google.com/maps?t=k&q=53.2232,5.754861&ie=UTF8&ll=53.223199,5.754862&spn=0.01778,0.038195&z=15&iwloc=addr [google.com]

    • It's not blurred, it's just a new style of impressionist architecture.

  • This article is part of a government conspiracy!

  • please tag the article as "damagecontrol". I already did.

  • Was clear a couple years ago, then got pixelated, but now it's half-and-half:
    http://www.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=lake+wylie,+sc&ie=UTF8&ll=35.051649,-81.070637&spn=0.004479,0.006759&t=h&z=17&iwloc=addr [google.com]

    Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.

  • As some people report, some of the places are blurred and pixelated.

    Debunking would need a full around inspection, on as well lesser known censored locations. So in other words this Debunking article is *FUD* and by far an incomplete investigation to the matter.

    Furthermore, it is in google's best interest that censorship is considered a myth / urban legend.

    I've myself seen even in Finland a censored location.

  • by BCW2 ( 168187 )
    Naval Operations Base Norfolk, VA
    Does anyone believe that the Truman, Enterprise, and Roosevelt have been in the same place for the last 3 years? Yet the are tied up at piers 11 & 12 with the Big E in a serious upkeep.
    Pier 22
    Same 4 Submarines
    Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock
    2 more Nimitz class carriers, one in drydock (overhaul/new construction) and one tied to the pier fitting out after launching/overhaul.

    Google has not changed these pictures since google maps added the satellite view.
  • ...doesn't look very pixelated. And there's a clever hack for finding it: go to the "Fly To:" box and type area 51...;-)


Vitamin C deficiency is apauling.