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Jun 26 2011

It’s a Conspiracy! Episode 5

Up now in It’s a Conspiracy!, it’s time to look at the next couple of locations from 13 Places Google Doesn’t Want You To See. Check out Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, and Episode 4 for more of the conspiratorial fun.

Image № 7: Mobil Oil Corp. in Buffalo NY

Here is what Google Maps has to show us in Buffalo, New York. This spot is at the southwest corner of Elk Street and Bailey Avenue.

Mobil Buffalo via Google

It seems quite obvious that the imagery for this location has been deliberately blurred. I guess Mobil Oil considered this facility a potential target of one miscreant or another, and more detailed images might aid them in their nefarious plans. Of course, all of that doesn’t matter very much when you don’t bother to confer with other mapping providers, like bing Maps.

Mobil Buffalo via bing

It doesn’t really matter. If someone wants aerial photographs of your property badly enough, they will get them. It doesn’t matter if they have to rent a plane or a helicopter, or if they use a camera fastened to a kite or placed on a radio controlled blimp. They will get the photographs they want.

Image № 8: North Korea

The article at truTV has this to say about North Korea and Google Maps:

You’ve no doubt heard about this country, one of the members of the supposed “Axis of Evil,” but few have ever visited. You won’t see it on Google Maps, either, as the entire country exists in images but without highway markers, street names, or any other identifying details.

That’s true if you’re using Google Maps. Not even the locations of cities are indicated anywhere in North Korea.

North Korea via Google Maps

If you use bing Maps, you can see the locations of various cities, as well as the names and boundaries of the provinces.

North Korea via bing Maps

Keep in mind that this does not mean that Google doesn’t provide satellite imagery in North Korea. That imagery is completely without labels in Google Maps, however. Look at this spot in the city of Tanchon (Tanch’ŏn), a city of about 360,000 people in northeastern South Hamgyong province of North Korea as bing Maps shows it to us.

Tanchon via bing Maps

Not a bad view for such an unknown country (to most in the west, at least). Notice that bing even indicates (in the top left) what province we’re viewing. Let’s look at the same spot using Google Maps.

Tanchon via Google Maps

Google provides very clear satellite imagery, but forgoes any labeling at all. This isn’t the case in Google Earth, where the same imagery is used, but city labels are also in place (though province information seems to be missing).

What’s the deal with Google Maps, then? I don’t really know. It’s been this way for as long as I can recall, and it has been brought to their attention. In one of the Google Maps help areas, someone asked why there was no detail in North Korea. This was the response from one of the Google employees:

Maps Guide Adam
Google Employee
5/26/09
We never launched coverage in some countries because we simply weren’t satisfied with the map data we had available. We’re constantly searching for the best map data we can find, and sometimes will delay launching coverage in a country if we think we can get more comprehensive data.

So, they’re delaying coverage until they get better data? Two years later they still have no better data?

Could I have a moment? I'm calling bullshit.

I'm calling bullshit.

That’s right: I’m calling bullshit. They have at least some data (as evidenced by their other product, Google Earth). What’s the problem?

Someone at Google has made a conscious decision to omit all details about North Korea from Google Maps. As to why they’ve done this, I have no idea. They’re only hurting their own reputation and forcing some of their customers to seek information elsewhere.

Is it a vast conspiracy? I doubt it. Is it a bad business decision? Definitely.

3 comments

  1. Troythulu

    Hmmm. Not good business sense for Google. It’s a shame that things like this are what usually drive conspiratorial thinking, even without any real malignant schemes going on.

  2. Stirling

    Um, perhaps the Mobile site in Buffalo was blurry in 2011, but tonight (10/29/2012) its not only clear, but that part of Buffalo also jumps to a perspective view when you zoom in closer. Meh.

    1. Dan Johnson

      Thanks for noticing that, Stirling. I’ll have to take a look around there later. Google has been rolling out the 45° perspective views in quite a few locations. It can give quite a bit better detail on some spots. More evidence that there really isn’t any conspiracy to hide so many of these locations.

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