Why isn't Google Earth restricted?

Mapping enemy nations has always been difficult and dangerous. Top secret planes like U2s and SR71s were developed to try to outrun the anti-aircraft missiles. Anti-aircraft missiles were under constant development to shoot down higher and faster planes.

Billions were spent on the development of spy satellites. Film canisters in re-entry capsules had to be snagged in midair by recovery aircraft and rushed to film developers on Navy ships. No price was to high for the information.

Then - - Google Earth comes along with high resolution coverage of virtually the entire earth.
For free.
Not only to warring super powers, but to anyone and everyone.

My question (finally) is: are the superpowers pissed off at Google Earth?! All the stuff that they wanted to shield from prying eyes (SAM sites and rocket launch facilities and military bases, etc, etc.) is now free on the internet. Seems to me like governments would have tried to restrict such information.

Some secret sites are blacked out or blended in with the surrounding area on Google Earth. I don’t know if they give all governments that option but they do for the U.S. government so that probably helps a lot.

[Emphasis mine.]

The difference is that Google Earth is not real-time. I know that there are still people who think it is, but I hope you’re aware that it is not.

Didn’t they just aggregate images that were already freely available anyway? It’s not like they launched a bunch of planes and satellites and took pictures of the whole world.

I know I’ve seen examples where air bases were replaced by fields in the images.

Prior to google earth the data was available to anyone for a price. A pretty low price. Not cheap enough for most people with no greater need that to satisfy their curiosity of the world, but much cheaper than U2 flights. There have been commercial satellite companies that sell this data to people like farmers, government planners, mining companies for decades.

Do you think Google assembled all this information themselves by training a bunch of pimply-faced computer dorks to fly surveillance missions all over the globe?

Everything on Google Earth comes from publicly available satellite and flyover image databases; the same databases used to make road maps and topo studies and whatnot. Your tax-dollars paid to make them, at least those covering the US. Google might as well make good use of them.

Google does block out certain sensitive areas at the request of the federal government. Rest assured, other governments have images of those things anyway. Snapping the top of a white house from a spy satellite is not hard these days.

Thanks guys!

Actually I had sneaky suspicion that the guys at Google Earth are pimply-faced computer dorks, but I was shocked to learn that they get their imagery second hand.

Thanks for all the excellent information!

Ain’t that the truth. The images for my area are at least 3 to 4 years out of date, if not longer.

Actually they did just that. Cars drive around talking 360 degree shots all day long from the street and Bing uses aircraft images for their bird’s eye views in addition to satellite images.

to the extent that any of it was directly commissioned is certainly questionable but the fact that it is compiled for public use is not.

As to the op, all of this stuff is available because of the earlier cold war efforts by the superpowers. If they could have done this in the 60’s with satellites they would have. Digital imagery eventually caught up with film so the necessity of expensive manned attempts were made obsolete.

Israel blocks some of Google Earth, iirc, as do other countries.

In the US anyways, most of the highest zoom-level Google Earth imagery is aerial. Various government agencies have been making and updating aerial photos of most of the country for years. The USGS’s aerial photo program started back in the 1930’s, largely to help with the creation of the nation-wide 7.5-minute topo maps. By the early-60’s, either the USGS or the USDA had photographed almost the entire country. These photos are comparable in quality to Google Earth images (though mostly black and white) and have have always been in the public domain and orderable by anyone, even during the height of the Cold War (although, just like today, obviously imagery from some sensitive areas was not). The library at the university I went to had a complete set of high-resolution aerial photos of the entire state that was published back in the mid-60’s, right next to all the topo quads for the state.

Google Earth’s innovation was making all those images very easily accessible and stretching them onto a 3D model-- on the aerial/satellite end of things there is little or no content being made or commissioned by Google (in the US, anyways. It could be they do actually commission imagery in other countries where government agencies don’t produce as much aerial imagery).

A major factor.

I used to be able to look at the Google Earth images of my old hometown, Plattsburgh, NY, and see the B-52’s lined up along the runway at Plattsburgh Air Force Base. Which was pure nostalgia because the base had been decommissioned in 1995. But ten years later, Google Earth was still using the old images. (They’ve since updated them.)

I found several spots that were blocked out. For a while the roof of the white house was blanked. Dick Cheney made sure that his house was blanked out while he was VP. For example, the Shepvaart in Amsterdam used to be blocked out. It’s the Maritime Museum but also right next to it is a naval base. Current view shows the museum, but the navy base east of it is significantly pixillated. Oddly enough, they entire dock area is almost devoid of ships, even though there are some replica tall ships which I assume are permanently moored there. Photoshop?

You used to be able to find a giant bug crawling across the German landscape, thanks to a cleaning failure during scanning. I recall also finding a greyed out area near the Rhine that must have been a NATO base.

IIRC, the US allowed the sale of satellite photos with limited resolution, and much detail is filled in by arial photos where available. After the end of communism, the Russians also got into the satellite photo sales game, so the US cannot really stop images from being available on foreign sites; so why block this? It’s not just google earth; a lot of this material is made available to all sorts of businesses who need the information. Google just decided to license and embellish the whole earth.

I read something last year about China wanting to block Google Earth and Maps and set up its own geographic servers. Considering that there’s been a lot of controversy about pollution and about authorities colluding with businesses to effecively steal land from peasants, maybe they are touchy about easy viewing of their land.

North Korea is more viewable on GE than it used to be, but not by a whole lot. The visible features are a bit less informative than, say, any of the countries that border it.

I’ve never seen any aerial images on Google Earth or Google Earth. They all appear to be various resolutions of satellite images. That’s different than what I see on Bing

How are you telling the difference between satellite imagery and images taken from planes?

I’m not going to drop money on a bet but what I’m referring to as images taken from planes have more side angle and are obviously done in strips that are not perfectly aligned as you move. The overlapping strips do not line up side to side but line up within the strip.

At the bottom of the image there’s text which shows who took the image. GeoEye and Digital Globe are the two major commercial satellite providers in the US.

Most of the detailed, neighborhood (“Hey, that’s my house!”) views in Google Maps and Google Earth are aerial photography, not satellite. The satellite views are distinctly poorer in detail, color and texture.

Bing does it’s aerial maps differently, shooting lower and at an angle so you can virtually fly around your house. The Google style photography is from higher up and is a straight down view, very carefully aligned.