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Friday, January 27, 2023

Google Responds To Katrina Controversy With Fresh New Orleans Images

The Google Blog has responded to the concerns about showing pre-Katrina images for New Orleans. In short, Google said they changed the imagery back in September 2006 to provide higher resolution images of the city, even though views were from before Hurricane Katrina caused widespread damage. Now those pre-Katrina images have been replaced with high resolution photos shot in 2006, done on an expedited basis, the company said. More from the post:

Several months later, in September 2006, the storm imagery was replaced with pre-Katrina aerial photography of much higher resolution as part of a regular series of global data enhancements. We continued to make available the Katrina imagery, and associated overlays such as damage assessments and Red Cross shelters, on a dedicated site (earth.google.com/katrina.html). Our goal throughout has been to produce a global earth database of the best quality — accounting for timeliness, resolution, cloud cover, light conditions, and color balancing.

Given that the changes that affected New Orleans happened many months ago, we were a bit surprised by some of these recent comments. Nevertheless, we recognize the increasingly important role that imagery is coming to play in the public discourse, and so we’re happy to say that we have been able to expedite the processing of recent (2006) aerial photography for the Gulf Coast area (already in process for an upcoming release) that is equal in resolution to the data it is replacing. That new data was published in Google Earth and Google Maps on Sunday evening.

The response also comes after a US congressional subcommittee demanded an explanation from Google about the change. ZDNet has more on that, including a letter that was sent to Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Postscript From Danny: As I wrote originally on this issue, Google certainly was odd replacing lower resolution images of the area with higher ones that allowed you to zoom in on a city much different than when those images were shot. That helped no one. But Google is hardly the only search engine with before Katrina images, as our previous coverage point out.

And without excusing Google, I find it odd you have the chair of the US House of Representatives science oversight committee berating Google without wondering why the US government itself isn’t doing a better job. From his letter:

The entire country knows that New Orleans is a great American city struggling to recover from an unprecedented disaster. Google’s us of old imagery appears to be doing victims of Hurricane Katrina a great injustice by airbrushing history.

Now look here. Those are the latest images provided by the US Geological Survey, which date from 2002! And these images are the same ones that in turn get used by Microsoft’s mapping service.

Fair to say, the US government has more resources than private companies that offer mapping. I’m glad the political grandstanding has helped make Google more responsive, when it should have. But if the committee had been really concerned, it would have known these images were changed several months ago and more important ensured that the US government itself was keeping updated images out there.

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