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Thread: Google Earth

  1. #16

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  2. #17


    December 20, 2005

    Google Offers a Bird's-Eye View, and Some Governments Tremble


    When Google introduced Google Earth, free software that marries satellite and aerial images with mapping capabilities, the company emphasized its usefulness as a teaching and navigation tool, while advertising the pure entertainment value of high-resolution flyover images of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and the pyramids.

    But since its debut last summer, Google Earth has received attention of an unexpected sort. Officials of several nations have expressed alarm over its detailed display of government buildings, military installations and other important sites within their borders.

    India, whose laws sharply restrict satellite and aerial photography, has been particularly outspoken. "It could severely compromise a country's security," V. S. Ramamurthy, secretary in India's federal Department of Science and Technology, said of Google Earth. And India's surveyor general, Maj. Gen. M. Gopal Rao, said, "They ought to have asked us."

    Similar sentiments have surfaced in news reports from other countries. South Korean officials have said they fear that Google Earth lays bare details of military installations. Thai security officials said they intended to ask Google to block images of vulnerable government buildings. And Lt. Gen. Leonid Sazhin, an analyst for the Federal Security Service, the Russian security agency that succeeded the K.G.B., was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying: "Terrorists don't need to reconnoiter their target. Now an American company is working for them."

    But there is little they can do, it seems, but protest.

    Google Earth is the most conspicuous recent instance of increased openness in a digitally networked world, where information that was once carefully guarded is now widely available on personal computers. Many security experts agree that such increased transparency - and the discomfort that it produces - is an inevitable byproduct of the Internet's power and reach.

    American experts in and outside government generally agree that the focus on Google Earth as a security threat appears misplaced, as the same images that Google acquires from a variety of sources are available directly from the imaging companies, as well as from other sources. Google Earth licenses most of the satellite images, for instance, from DigitalGlobe, an imaging company in Longmont, Colo.

    "Google Earth is not acquiring new imagery," said John Pike, director of, which has an online repository of satellite imagery. "They are simply repurposing imagery that somebody else had already acquired. So if there was any harm that was going to be done by the imagery, it would already be done."

    Google Earth was developed as a $79-a-year product by a small company called Keyhole that Google bought last year; it was reintroduced as a free downloadable desktop program in June. It consists of software that can be downloaded onto a personal computer and used to "fly over" city streets, landmarks, buildings, mountains, redwood forests and Gulf Stream waters. Type in any street address in the United States, Canada or Britain, or the longitude and latitude for any place - or even terms like "pyramids" or "Taj Mahal" - and the location quickly zooms into focus from outer space.

    It was in the 1990's that the federal government started allowing commercial satellite companies to make and sell high-resolution images, to allow American companies to compete in a growing market.

    But a number of security restrictions apply to those companies. For instance, United States law requires that images of Israel shot by American-licensed commercial satellites be made available only at a relatively low resolution. Also, the companies' operating licenses allow the United States government to put any area off limits in the interests of national security. A 24-hour delay is mandated for images of especially high resolution.

    Vipin Gupta, a security analyst at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, said the time delays were crucial, saying that in the national security sphere much can change between the time an image is taken and when it is used by the public.

    "You can get imagery to determine whether there is a military base or airfield, but if you want to count aircraft, or determine whether there are troops there at a particular time, it is very difficult to do," Mr. Gupta said. "It's not video."

    Andrew McLaughlin, a senior policy counsel at Google, said the company had entered discussions with several countries over the last few months, including Thailand, South Korea and, most recently, India.

    India may be particularly sensitive to security issues because of its long-running border disputes with Pakistan, its rival nuclear power, and recurring episodes of terrorism. Since 1967, it has forbidden aerial photographs of bridges, ports, refineries and military establishments, and outside companies and agencies are required to have those images evaluated by the government. High-resolution satellite photos face similar restrictions in India, which has its own sophisticated satellite imaging program.

    Mr. Ramamurthy, the Indian science official, acknowledged that "there is very little we can do to a company based overseas and offering its service over the Internet." But General Rao, the Indian surveyor general, said the Indian government had sent a letter asking Google "to show sensitive sites, which we will list - areas such as the presidential residence and defense installations - in very low-resolution images."

    Mr. McLaughlin said he had not yet seen such a letter; he said talks with India had centered specifically on images of the Kashmir border, long disputed by India and Pakistan.

    Meetings with Indian officials or those from other nations have yet to result in a request that Google remove or downgrade any information, Mr. McLaughlin said. Nor, he said, has the United States government ever asked Google to remove information.

    The same cannot be said for Mr. Pike, whose Web site has images of nuclear test sites and military bases in much sharper focus than can be found on Google Earth.

    Last year, Mr. Pike said, he was asked by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, an arm of the Defense Department, to remove from his site some of the maps of cities in Iraq that the Coalition Provisional Authority had created for planning cellphone service.

    Mr. Pike said he had complied, but added that the incident was a classic example of the futility of trying to control information. "To think that the same information couldn't be found elsewhere was not a very safe assumption," he said.

    Dave Burpee, a spokesman for the agency, said that the incident was relatively isolated, and that Mr. Pike had been asked to remove the maps because they were marked "limited distribution." A service like Google Earth, on the other hand, contains nothing classified or restricted.

    An outcry over security was the last thing John Hanke was thinking five years ago when he joined in founding Keyhole with the aim of using satellite and aerial photography to create a three-dimensional world map. The idea, said Mr. Hanke, an entrepreneur who founded two video game companies before starting Keyhole, was to make video games more interesting.

    Now Mr. Hanke, as a general manager at Google in charge of Google Earth, finds himself in the thick of frequent discussions at Google and with outsiders about transparency. He speaks enthusiastically of the benefits of openness. "A lot of good things come out of making information available," he said, and proceeded to list a few: "disaster relief, land conservation and forest management for fighting wildfires."

    The images, which Google Earth expects to update roughly every 18 months, are a patchwork of aerial and satellite photographs, and their relative sharpness varies. Blurriness is more often than not an indication of the best quality available for a location.

    Chuck Herring, a spokesman for DigitalGlobe, said that to the best of his knowledge, the federal government had never asked his company to obscure or blur images. Similarly, Mr. Hanke said no specific areas on Google Earth lacked high-resolution data because of federal restrictions.

    For a brief period, photos of the White House and adjacent buildings that the United States Geological Survey provided to Google Earth showed up with certain details obscured, because the government had decided that showing details like rooftop helicopter landing pads was a security risk. Google has since replaced those images with unaltered photographs of the area taken by Sanborn, a mapping and imagery company, further illustrating the difficulty of trying to control such information.

    As for security issues raised by other countries, Mr. Hanke said, "When we reach out and engage with knowledgeable people, the concern tends to subside."

    Still, imagery is growing harder than ever to control, especially as it makes its way around the Internet. Several countries, notably Nigeria, China and Brazil, have recently launched satellites, making it harder for any one government to impose restrictions.

    "When you have multiple eyes in the sky, what you're doing is creating a transparent globe where anyone can get basic information about anyone else," said Mr. Gupta, the Sandia analyst. His recommendation to the Indian government, he said, would be to accept the new reality: "Times are changing, and the best thing to do is adapt to the advances in technology."

    Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting for this article.

    * Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

  3. #18
    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    Mr. Ramamurthy, the Indian science official, acknowledged that "there is very little we can do to a company based overseas and offering its service over the Internet."


    That is too Ironic for words.

  4. #19


    Google Earth increasingly compliant with censorship requests: US intelligence report

    John Byrne
    Published: Tuesday August 26, 2008

    Google has becoming increasingly compliant to government requests to block purportedly sensitive information -- including images of Tibet, military installations and even a General Electric research plant -- according to a new report prepared by the Open Source Center for the Bush Administration's Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and reports circulated online about areas Google has blocked or blurred.

    The research report was not approved for public release but was leaked to Secrecy News (view pdf). It is prepared entirely on public information -- so called "open source" intelligence. But it paints a picture of an increasingly pliant global communications juggernaut, willing to do business with authoritarian regimes and US government agencies at the expense of transparency.

    China, for instance, has an "online geographical information security management and coordination group" which regularly browses online mapping sites.

    "When problems are discovered, they are either raised with Google's China headquarters or through diplomatic channels," the report says.

    "Google has been very cooperative in the course of communications," a Chinese spokesman remarked.

    Among the areas Google blurs out in China includes, not surprisingly, Tibet/Xinjiang Province. Other areas of Asia that have been clouded include northern areas of Pakistan -- it's unknown why or who might have requested the omission.

    Google also censors certain sites in India. India may also be taking measures to hide their facilities from satellites. According to the report, "India's army announced that it had taken evasive measures against the 'intrusive photographs of strategic installations.'"

    Google sometimes uses older images to replace existing ones to erase, say, the movement of troops in Iraq. After a January 2007 report that terrorists were attacking British bases based on Google Earth imagery, Google replaced images of these sites with photographs taken before the war. The report also claims that al Qaeda militants used Google Earth to target oil facilities in Yemen.

    They also blotted out a British eavesdropping base and Trident nuclear facilities in Scotland.

    Myriad nuclear power plants and military installations have been blurred out. For a partial list, see IT Security's "51 Things You Aren't Allowed to See on Google Maps."

    General Electric's main plant missing

    Think countries are the only ones benefiting from Google's largesse?

    * General Electric World Research Laboratories and General Electric Main Plant in Schenectady, NY are blocked in Google, according to IT Security. The mulitbillion-dollar US company's website says the research component hosts more than 3,000 of "the best and brightest researchers spread out at four multi-disciplinary facilities around the world."

    * William Hurt's Home: This actor’s home outside of Paris is hazy.

    * Playland Amusement Park in Rye, NY: Google will not let you in on the fun at this amusement park, which boasts arcade games and 45 major rides.

    Given that the US intelligence report was prepared only from open sources, it seems likely that Google has complied with other requests to censor or blur out information. The US report cites no instances of the US asking for changes in Google's database, though IT security cites dozens of instances where the company has blocked out viewing access to US military sites -- including the White House.

    Some countries are even developing Google Earths of their own in response to the threat of satellite transparency. Digital Thailand is building one; India's Space Research Organization plans another in late 2008, and China too plans "China Earth, Google China, or Images China," that will supposedly make its debut in 2009.

  5. #20
    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    Sep 2003


    Some things I can see, like military encampments/troop positions, and possibly sensitive bases and the like.

    But bowing under pressure from China to forego any pictures of that area of Tibet outside of China is really piss-poor arse kissing.

    Same thing for the research site.

    If private citizens want anonymity, they should, I guess, be able to get a "blank out" on the map, an outline of their property line with their name on it (hey, it IS a map you know!). But that is a tough one. Sometimes you want to have a bit of privacy, a place to hide from the public if you are famous and want some time away.

    OR if you are apolitician and you just want to hide.... *cough*CHENEY*cough*

  6. #21


    News - August 25, 2008

    Moo North: Cattle and Deer May Sense Earth's Magnetic Field

    Google Earth photos and field studies reveal animals lining up north–south

    By JR Minkel

    Forget cow tipping—next time you want to mess with a bovine friend, try waving a magnet in its face.

    Researchers have found that when grazing or resting, cattle and deer tend to point their bodies toward Earth's magnetic poles, which suggests they are able to sense magnetic fields in the same way as many smaller animals.

    German and Czech researchers used Google Earth satellite images to look at 8,510 domestic cattle in 308 pastures located randomly across six continents. They also studied body alignment in 2,974 red and roe deer in the Czech Republic, either by photographing the animals or checking the impressions they left in snow.

    The team reports in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that the animals tended to point north or south but not in other directions. When the researchers were able to examine the position of the head in the case of red and roe deer, they found the animals tended to point north.

    The group ruled out other reasons, such as wind or sun, for why grazing animals might orient themselves that way. There was no consistent wind pattern among the different locations, study author Hynek Burda, a zoologist at the University of Duisburg–Essen in Germany, says. And if the animals were basking in the sun, researchers would have seen them standing outside of one another's shadows.

    More tellingly, in places such as the coastal U.S. where the direction of the magnetic north pole differs from geographic north (the latter defined by Earth's axis of rotation), the group found that cattle positioned themselves toward the magnetic poles.

    Researchers have found evidence for a magnetic sense in animals ranging from fruit flies to mice and mole rats to fish, amphibians and birds (but not humans). The study shows that "the magnetic sense is virtually ubiquitous," says sensory biologist John Phillips of Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, who has studied it in other animals. "It's not simply in the realm of animals that move very large distances."

    The sense can come from small magnetic particles in cells, but some animals such as birds also seem to perceive magnetic fields as changes in light intensity, due to effects of the fields on light-sensitive pigments in the eye.

    To look for a magnetic sense in larger animals, the group's first idea was to study camping humans, Burda says. "We wanted to study some kind of spontaneous behavior, because learning experiments can sometimes become very frustrating," he says.

    Migratory animals may use the ability to get a sense of direction or construct a map in their heads for navigating, according to Phillips. Evidence for a magnetic sense in cattle and deer suggests to him that it may be a more basic tool for mentally mapping their everyday surroundings and learning new landmarks. "I think it'll…make us rethink what this kind of sensory ability is used for," he says.

    It may also come in handy if you're ever lost in a cow pasture.

    It may seem like useless info, but if cows are, well, contented to be aligned with the magnetic poles, what are the ramifications on milk production if the barn stalls are aligned E-W?

  7. #22
    Crabby airline hostess - stache's Avatar
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    It's my impression that birds migrate by sensing magnetic fields.

    edit - According to google maps, my bed is facing northwest.
    Last edited by stache; August 26th, 2008 at 07:11 PM.

  8. #23


    You all probably know, but there is now Google Street View, Street level 360 panorama of varios cities, including New York. just type in google street view.

  9. #24
    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    Sep 2003


    Is it possible they face that way because they can get the most sun?

    Other things happen in a north-south or east-west direction you know. They may be facing that way for a completely different reason, and we are just blindly associating until someone can prove it wrong...

    (Oddly enough, I think it was mentioned like that on an episode of Dr. Who of all things....)

  10. #25
    Crabby airline hostess - stache's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ZippyTheChimp View Post

    The group ruled out other reasons, such as wind or sun, for why grazing animals might orient themselves that way. There was no consistent wind pattern among the different locations, study author Hynek Burda, a zoologist at the University of Duisburg–Essen in Germany, says. And if the animals were basking in the sun, researchers would have seen them standing outside of one another's shadows.

  11. #26


    In a response to an article, someone suggested that cows are avoiding the effects of their flatulence by aligning themselves perpendicular to the prevailing east-west winds.

    I'm not sure, but I think it was sarcasm.

    At any rate, the researchers discounted wind as a factor - even breaking wind.

    It's odd though that cows, like most herd animals, don't position themselves every which way, so they can collectively look in all directions for predators.

  12. #27
    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    I think cows have lost that "instinct".

    Like I said though, sometimes it is not one reason that makes a thing the way it is. These guys just like the idea of Cow Compasses.

  13. #28


    Cow Compass is so promising natural-tech-idea Finding forgotten or nearly-secret objects is much more interesting , I think, like nuclear submarines and others..

  14. #29


    GeoEye-1, the “Google satellite,” will capture the Obama Inauguration from space


    GeoEye-1, the powerful imagery satellite that is perhaps best known as the “Google satellite” (because Google has a deal to use its pictures for its Google Maps and Google Earth products), will be focusing its lens on the Inauguration of President Obama next week. The company notes that while there will be plenty of cameras covering the event on the ground, and some in the air, GeoEye-1 will be the only one offering a perspective from space.

    The satellite will be 423 miles above Washington, D.C. on January 20 at 11:19AM EDT. While it will be moving 17,000 miles per hour, it will still be able to look down at the Earth and see objects about a half meter in size. The image [linked here] (which I actually had to shrink due to upload size limits) is one the satellite took a few weeks ago of the area. Last month, we posted a picture that the satellite took of Google’s campus.

    It’s not Google who is requesting these images, and it’s not the government either. Instead, it’s a company initiative by GeoEye.

    “An image of the Inauguration has been requested by many news organizations,” a GeoEye spokesperson tells us. “So, if the weather cooperates, the image will be distributed to news organizations and bloggers around the world. The image will be available about three hours after it’s taken.”

    If you’d like some to see some footage a bit closer up on the action, you may want to check out one of the live streams.

  15. #30
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    And they worry about us citizens with cameras in hand

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