Sorry, We Have No Imagery Here: When Google Earth Goes Blind
Since its debut, Google Earth has been a kind of a double-edged sword. It’s a stupefying modern marvel, more or less indispensable to those who use it. Even a decade after its release, the idea that we have the ability to navigate just about any terrain in the whole world, places we’ll never even come close to personally seeing, is still jaw-dropping. But by the same token, how much of ourselves do we want to be seen? And who’s looking? It seems that some folks have been less than thrilled at suddenly being so accessible to the public.
Google Earth began blurring or pixelating certain locations upon request. It started with governments. When the site first launched in 2005, images of the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC were blurred. (They’re not anymore, but the censored version has been replaced with outdated imagery.) Following suit, several countries have official contracts with Google to blur specific sites, among them India and Australia. Meanwhile, somewhat ingeniously, the government of Malaysia went the opposite route and realized that it would reveal its sensitive locations if they were visibly censored, so it chose to leave them unblurred.
But then things opened up a little. The owners of a house in Arkansas, that was photographed by Google Street View while it was on fire asked that the imagery be removed, and the request was granted less than a year later. In 2008, the city of North Oaks, Minnesota,requested that Google remove all imagery of its streets, because the land there is privately owned, and Google complied.
Today, anyone can file to have just about any location blurred, and plenty of people have had their requests honored by Google.
Keep reading about Google Earth’s blind spots, on Atlas Obscura…