Google Maps Reverts To Pre-Katrina Images for NO

    March 30, 2007

Google is coming under criticism for rolling back satellite imagery of New Orleans, replacing the images of post-Katrina New Orleans with older, pre-hurricane photos that show the city in a much cleaner condition than is the reality. In this article by The Age, Google says it is only offering the best images it has, and that there are many factors that went into the change:

Chikai Ohazama, a Google product manager for satellite imagery, said the maps now available are the best the company can offer. He said numerous factors “go into the databases, everything from resolution, to quality, to when the actual imagery was acquired”.

In the images available today, the cranes working to fix the lethal breach of the 17th Street Canal are gone. Homes wiped off their foundations are miraculously back in place in the impoverished Lower 9th Ward. So, too, is the historic lighthouse on Lake Pontchartrain.

Scroll across the city, and across the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and everything is back to normal: Marinas are filled with boats, bridges are intact and parks are filled with healthy full-bodied trees.

Residents and community activists are not pleased, quoted as saying that Google is pulling “the wool over the world’s eyes”, that the switch is “unbelievable”, and that with Google, you can “take a magic pill and go back into the past”. It seems like people in New Orleans are convinced that there is a government conspiracy to cover up the current state of New Orleans and convince the world that all is well there, and that Google may be part of the conspiracy.

I can’t say that I can actually see any difference between the maps Google has, and those at Windows Live Maps and Ask Maps, but if anyone would care to point them out to me, I can show a comparison.

So, is Google part of a conspiracy? Please. The idea that Google would be interested in a cover-up in New Orleans is kind of ridiculous. If I had to guess, Google was back-tracking on an earlier decision. See, back in September 2005, Google quickly commissioned and added overhead images of a Katrina-devastated New Orleans to Google Maps and Google Earth, in a likely expensive effort to help show its users the devastation.

While New Orleans is certainly not what it once was, it is cleaner and in much better shape than it was a month after Katrina. At some point, Google must have decided that the images of a hurricane-ravaged city were no longer accurate, and disabled them, replacing them with the regular database images which, due to the long amount of time it take sto photograph the entire planet, are a few years old, and thus, are pre-Katrina.

I don’t think that’s so bad. Yes, they aren’t accurate, any more than pre-9/11 images of lower Manhattan would be, but they are more accurate than photos of a flooded city. I wish Google’s imagery is more up-to-date, but they seem to be doing their best to make the images as little misleading as possible.