Subcommittee Criticizes Google Maps
Google's replacement of post-Hurricane Katrina satellite imagery on its map
portal with images of the region before the storm does a "great injustice"
to the storm's victims, a congressional subcommittee said.
The House Committee on Science and Technology's subcommittee on investigations
and oversight on Friday asked Google Inc. Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt to explain
why his company is using the outdated imagery.
The subcommittee cited an Associated Press report on the images.
"Google's use of old imagery appears to be doing the victims of Hurricane
Katrina a great injustice by airbrushing history," subcommittee chairman
Brad Miller, D-N.C., wrote in a letter to Schmidt.
Swapping the post-Katrina images and the ruin they revealed for others showing
an idyllic city dumbfounded many locals and even sparked suspicions that the
company and civic leaders were conspiring to portray the area's recovery progressing
better than it is.
Andrew Kovacs, a Google spokesman, said the company had received the letter
but Schmidt had no immediate response.
After Katrina, Google's satellite images were in high demand among exiles and
hurricane victims anxious to see whether their homes were damaged.
Now, though, a virtual trip through New Orleans is a surreal experience of
scrolling across a landscape of packed parking lots and marinas full of boats.
Reality, of course, is very different: Entire neighborhoods are now slab mosaics
where houses once stood and shopping malls, churches and marinas are empty of
life, many gone altogether.
John Hanke, Google's director for maps and satellite imagery, said "a
combination of factors including imagery date, resolution, and clarity"
go into deciding what imagery to provide.
"The latest update from one of our information providers substantially
improved the imagery detail of the New Orleans area," Hanke said in a news
release about the switch.
Kovacs said efforts are under way to use more current imagery.
It was not clear when the current images replaced views of the city taken after
Katrina struck Aug. 29, 2005, flooding an estimated 80 percent of New Orleans.
Miller asked Google to brief his staff by April 6 on who made the decision
to replace the imagery with pre-Katrina images, and to disclose if Google was
contacted by the city, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Geological
Survey or any other government entity about changing the imagery.
"To use older, pre-Katrina imagery when more recent images are available
without some explanation as to why appears to be fundamentally dishonest,"
Edith Holleman, staff counsel for the House subcommittee, said it would be
useful to understand how Google acquires and manages its imagery because "people
see Google and other Internet engines and it's almost like the official word."
Google does provide imagery of New Orleans and the region following Katrina
through its more specialized service called Google Earth.