Monday, April 02, 2007

Google Maps

Google's maps under fire
Cain Burdeau in New Orleans

GOOGLE'S replacement of post-Hurricane Katrina satellite imagery on its Google Maps portal with images of the region before the storm does a "great injustice" to the storm's victims, a US congressional subcommittee said.

The House Committee on Science and Technology's subcommittee on investigations and oversight on Friday asked Google chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt to explain why his company is using the outdated imagery.

The subcommittee cited an Associated Press report on the images.

"Google's use of old imagery appears to be doing the victims of Hurricane Katrina a great injustice by airbrushing history," subcommittee chairman Brad Miller, wrote in a letter to Mr Schmidt.

Swapping the post-Katrina images and the ruin they revealed for others showing an idyllic city dumbfounded many locals and even sparked suspicions that the company and civic leaders were conspiring to portray the area's recovery progressing better than it was.

Andrew Kovacs, a Google spokesman, said the company had received the letter but Mr Schmidt had no immediate response.

After Katrina, Google's satellite images were in high demand among exiles and hurricane victims anxious to see whether their homes were damaged.

Now, though, a virtual trip through New Orleans is a surreal experience of scrolling across a landscape of packed parking lots and marinas full of boats.

Reality is very different. Entire neighbourhoods are now slab mosaics where houses once stood and shopping malls, churches and marinas are empty of life, many gone altogether.

John Hanke, Google's director for maps and satellite imagery, said "a combination of factors including imagery date, resolution, and clarity" go into deciding what imagery to provide.

"The latest update from one of our information providers substantially improved the imagery detail of the New Orleans area," Mr Hanke said in a news release about the switch.

Mr Kovacs said efforts were under way to use more current imagery.

It was not clear when the current images replaced views of the city taken after Katrina struck August 29, 2005, flooding an estimated 80 per cent of New Orleans.

Mr Miller asked Google to brief his staff by April 6 on who made the decision to replace the imagery with pre-Katrina images, and to disclose if Google was contacted by the city, the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, the US Geological Survey or any other government entity about changing the imagery.

"To use older, pre-Katrina imagery when more recent images are available without some explanation as to why appears to be fundamentally dishonest," Mr Miller said.

Mark over at Wetbankguide has more

from wired dot com, "Google denies conspiracy" (they didn't think anyone was looking)

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