Google’s wrist slapped for “airbrushing history”
By Stevie Smith Apr 3, 2007, 10:47 GMT
Almost two years after tearing through Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, killing in excess of 1,800 people and leaving a damage bill of approximately $80 billion USD in its wake, the after effects of fearsome Hurricane Katrina are still being felt. And this week, those effects have even extended to Google.
More specifically, Web search engine giant Google Inc. has recently been criticised for replacing New Orleans’ storm-damaged satellite imagery through its popular online maps feature with older views captured prior to the devastating impact of Katrina in August of 2005.
A related article run by the Associated Press at the tail end of last week outlined the geographic changes implemented to the popular map engine. This then subsequently led to a U.S. House Subcommittee pointing accusatory fingers at Google with regard to “airbrushing history” for the sake of relaying a conveniently untouched depiction of New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
By way of reaction, Google has replaced the chastised older imagery with newer satellite captures from 2006 displaying a post-Katrina New Orleans with blue-coloured tarp protection strewn across much of the city’s damaged roofing, while also clearly outlining the masses of debris that litters the Lower 9th Ward neighbourhood.
A somewhat puzzled Google has revealed that it wasn’t its intention to alter historic record, and that the older, pre-Katrina aerial photographs, which were posted in September of 2006, were merely applied to introduce “much higher resolution as part of a regular series of global data enhancements.”
“Given that the changes that affected New Orleans happened many months ago, we were a bit surprised by some of these recent comments,” said John Hanke, director for Google Earth and Maps on Google’s official blog on Monday. “Make no mistake, this wasn’t any effort on our part to rewrite history.”
Regardless, Google is expected to officially respond to the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology’s subcommittee regarding its reasoning behind the imagery alterations following a concerned letter sent to Google CEO Eric Schmidt from the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Brad Miller. Miller’s communiqué to Schmidt suggested that Google’s outdated imagery was “doing the victims of Hurricane Katrina a great injustice by airbrushing history.”
It’s also worth noting that although Google’s updated 2006 satellite photography does clearly show elements of the damage wrought by Katrina, there are still significant discrepancies in its chronological accuracy. For example, while New Orleans appears much closer to how it is in 2007, certain small Mississippi Gulf Coast towns that were absolutely devastated by Katrina (literally wiped off the world map) remain eerily untouched.