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Google Earth Blog
Google have sophisticated software that automatically detects and blurs faces and number plates in Street View imagery in order to protect people’s privacy. It is not perfect, however, and we often get emails asking us to blur peoples faces or number plates in Street View. Occasionally people want all images of their house removed. Although we have explained how to do this several times in the past, it is worth reiterating:
- Open the location in the Google Maps version of Street View.
- Click the ‘Report a problem’ link found at the bottom right of the screen.
- A form appears asking you what you want blurred and where it is on the image. Fill in the form and click “Submit”.
Google will take appropriate action and let you know.
Occasionally we get queries from readers asking whether it is possible to obtain copies of the original unblurred imagery. This is usually a request from relatives of a deceased loved one who appears in the imagery and they would like to have the unblurred imagery as a remembrance. Although it would be nice if Google were able to grant this sort of request, it is not possible. It would not be feasible to create a reliable system to verify the person in the image has granted their permission, whereas simply granting requests without verification would defeat the purpose of blurring the imagery in the first place. In addition, many of the countries in which Google has Street View, have privacy laws that require Google to blur faces and number plates and to destroy the original images within a reasonable amount of time and thus, releasing such images would be illegal.
According to NORAD, the tradition of tracking Santa began as follows:
The tradition began in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement misprinted the telephone number for children to call Santa. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone number put kids through to the CONAD Commander-in-Chief’s operations “hotline.” The Director of Operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Children who called were given updates on his location, and a tradition was born.”
Soon after Google acquired Keyhole in 2004, prior to it being renamed and released as Google Earth, one of the Google engineers released a KML file showing Santa’s route around the earth and it immediately became very popular. Before long, Google and NORAD were cooperating on the Santa tracking mission, a partnership that continued until Christmas 2009, after which NORAD decided to start using alternative mapping products. At this point, Google decided to do their own tracking, so for the last few years there have been two Santa trackers available. Google’s Santa Tracker and NORAD’s Santa Traker.
Both sites have games and other activities to keep you entertained every day until Christmas Eve, when the actual tracking begins in earnest. Their estimates for when Santa will first be spotted differ by 3 hours. I am guessing this is because NORAD has radar stations near the North Pole and will be able to track him sooner.
Google Santa Tracker.
NORAD Santa Tracker.
For more on the Santa Tracker, its history, and the technology behind it, be sure to check out some of our posts from years past.
Last week we noted that Google had changed the way search results are displayed in Google Earth (desktop version). Several GEB readers have noted, however, that there are some problems with the functionality of the new search.
GEB reader ZEROibis pointed out in the comments that if you try to obtain directions by right clicking on two locations and selecting “directions from here”, and “directions to here” respectively, Google Earth inserts into the search box text like this:
from:53.4083714, -2.9915726 (Liverpool) to:52.6368778, -1.1397592 (Leicester)
and the search fails, flying you to latitude 0 and longitude 0. If, however, you carefully remove the sections in brackets and remove some of the extra spaces, then it does work, and provides fairly comprehensive directions, including different modes of transport and multiple routes – as was the case before the recent change.
There also appears to be no easy way to open the directions being viewed in Google Maps – a feature that used to be available.
If you wish to get directions from locations that do not have a clickable icon in Google Earth, then there are two options:
- Click the “Get Directions” link below the search box, then enter the addresses in the two input boxes that appear.
- Add Placemarks to the map for your ‘from’ and ‘to’ locations, then right click on them in turn and select “Directions from here” and “Directions to here” respectively. Then remove the sections in brackets from the search text as explained above.
Save to My Places
If you search for a location and it comes up in the search results, it used to be possible to right click on it and save it in ‘My Places’, or one could simply drag and drop it to the desired folder in ‘My Places’. Now, however, neither the right click menu option nor the drag and drop seem to work at all. Another option on the right click menu ‘Copy as KML’ also does not work.
Instead, both functionalities are provided by buttons that appear just below the search results – which do work correctly. This includes the ability to save search directions.
As we mentioned in our month end post last week, based on reports from GEB readers, we suspected that Google had released some new imagery since the November 19th update. This has now been confirmed, as Google have updated their map to show an update on November 25th.
Latest Google Earth Imagery map – November 25th, 2014. Larger version.
Thank you to GEB reader Chris for letting us know that Google have now published a map in the Maps Gallery showing the locations of the automatically generated 3D imagery. The map is dynamic so you have to zoom in to an area to see all the locations there. It maps cities and towns within the coverage areas rather than showing the actual outlines of the areas. We have compared it to our own map created and maintained with the help of GEB readers. We show the actual outlines, so as a result we have a number of areas that do not include large towns or cities and which Google’s version of the map does not include. There are also some recently added locations that are not yet – as of this writing – on Google’s Map, such as Dresden, Germany.
We did find several locations that Google’s map has that we did not. Some are locations we had missed and will be adding shortly. Two, however, Eskilstuna, Sweden, and Melbourne, Australia, do not currently have 3D imagery, but there are signs that they may do so in future.
3D imagery locations. Larger version.
The post New Imagery – November 25th, 2014 and 3D imagery map appeared first on Google Earth Blog.
Google has continued pushing out new automatically generated 3D areas although the pace this month has been a little slower than in recent months.
Earlier this month we looked at a misplaced satellite image. It appears to have since been corrected in Google Earth, but not in Google Maps as yet, and the change doesn’t show in any of the imagery update maps. The incorrect image is still visible in historical imagery. We also had a tip from GEB reader Jonah that there is new imagery in Bridgeport, CT, USA, which we have confirmed is visible in Google Earth, but not yet in Google Maps. This suggests there is another update after the November 19th one.
A misplaced satellite image over Koslanda, Georgia.
We had a look at a landslide in Sri Lanka …
… and a lava flow in Hawaii.
We remembered the fall of the Berlin wall, which fell 25 years ago.
What were your favorite stories this month?
Thank you to GEB reader Paul, for alerting us to a recent change made to the way search results are displayed in Google Earth. The changes to the search are not a change in the code of the Google Earth client, but rather a change in the styling of the results which come from the search engine. We recently explained that searches in Google Earth are based on the same database that is used for Google Maps, and thus the results are much more up to date than the mapping data found in Google Earth.
If you search for a location such as a city or country, typically a single result is returned with just the location name and marker.
A more general search may return lots of results, which are displayed both in an indexed list as well as points or markers on the map. If the results are businesses, then links to their web page (blue globe) or Google plus page (blue marker) are shown.
We recommend you change the Google Earth settings to open web pages in an external browser, as its internal browser is somewhat outdated and may not render all modern websites properly.
Also note that searches in Google Earth are location sensitive and take into account what you are looking at in the view window when you perform a search.
Last September Google announced that they would eventually drop support for NPAPI in Chrome, a key technology behind the Google Earth plugin. Then in September this year, they released a 64-bit version of Chrome without support for NPAPI and by extension, the Google Earth plugin. However, it was still unclear exactly when support would be discontinued in the 32-bit version. We also wrote a post showing you how some sites have decided to drop the Google Earth plugin in favor of other technologies with a more certain future.
On Monday, the Chromium Blog posted a more specific timeline for the phasing out of NPAPI. See the full details here.
From January 2015, the plugin will be blocked by default, but users will still be able to enable it.
From April 2015, it will be much harder, although still possible, to use the plugin.
From September 2015, NPAPI support will be permanently removed from Chrome and it will be impossible to use the Google Earth plugin in Chrome.
The post Timeline for the end of the Google Earth plugin in Chrome appeared first on Google Earth Blog.
Street View coverage continues to expand. There haven’t been any major countries added to the list recently, but within countries the coverage is continuously expanding, and in many places, being refreshed.
The most notable additions to Street View are being provided by the Street View Trekker, which was introduced back in 2012. It is used for capturing Street View inside buildings, such as the Burj Khalifa, off road areas, such as the Grand Canyon, and it can also be mounted on a boat such as was done for Venice and the Amazon. Google even created an underwater version of the Trekker, which is used to capture Street View under the oceans. Some of the most notable locations the Trekker has been used can be seen here. NBC have a short video showing how the trekker is used that you can watch here.
Yesterday’s post about Google Earth imagery updates got me thinking that there is no equivalent map for Street View. There is a map here that shows current coverage, and of course, in Google Maps and Google Earth you can hover the little yellow man above the map and it will highlight coverage areas. However, what would be really nice to have is a map showing the ages of the street view coverage. It could, for example, have a layer for each year since Street View started.
In the past, Google would publish a network linked KML file that showed the outlines of imagery releases, including all historical releases going back to 2009. However, early this year they discontinued it and instead have been publishing a map on the Maps Gallery that only shows the latest release. Also, other than taking a screenshot of the maps, there was no way to save them for later viewing.
Now Google have released a map on the Maps Gallery that once again shows us historical releases. Note that it does not currently include the two latest updates from November 3rd, 2014 and November 8th, 2014. It must also be noted that the dates given are not the dates that the imagery was captured, but rather the dates that the imagery was added to the Google Earth database. In many cases the imagery being added is older than previously existing imagery and gets added to historical imagery rather than the default layer.
There is still no way to extract the KML, which makes further analysis difficult. It would have been fun to do heat maps showing which areas received multiple updates.
If we look at all updates from 2009 to October 2014 we see the map below:
We can see a number of interesting patterns. There is poor coverage over tropical forests, deserts, and northern regions. Tropical forests tend to have cloud cover most of the time, making it difficult to capture imagery with clear skies. Similarly, the northern regions often have snow cover, making it difficult to capture good imagery. It is possible that capturing imagery over deserts is also difficult, or it may simply be that their low populations make them less interesting to imagery providers. Iraq and Afghanistan have received very few updates, presumably for security reasons.
[Update: As pointed out by GEB readers Maarten, Chris and an anonymous email, the ‘Latest Google Earth Imagery Updates’ map has been updated to November 19th 2014.]
The imagery from Google’s November 8th update is now available in historical imagery. A significant proportion of the imagery was not put into the default imagery, so was not accessible until now.
The location we will look at today is Pāhoa, Hawaii. The default imagery contains a mixture of images, with the most recent addition at first appearing to be cut out in rather odd shapes. But now we have the full original photo in historical imagery we can see that the reason for this is the large amount of cloud cover in the photo.
The reason the image was added at all is because of an ongoing lava flow from the nearby volcano Kilauea and Google have tried to strike a balance between the importance of up to date imagery with cloud cover, and older imagery of better quality. For more on the story, including pictures and video, see here. For more ground level pictures see here. To fly to the location in Google Earth, use this KML file.
Lava flow approaching Pāhoa, Hawaii.
If you look closer you can see wisps of smoke rising from the edges of the flow where it is burning the surrounding vegetation.
Yesterday we talked about large artwork using GPS tracks. Although the artists did travel to the locations involved in their artwork, the record they left, and thus the actual art, was digital rather than physical.
There are, however, some very big works of art that are visible in Google Earth. Here are a few of them.
Desert Breath by D.A.S.T Arteam.
This is the smallest and oldest, but has lasted well and can be seen in both current imagery as well as historical imagery. Read more about it in this post
Mundi Man or Eldee Man by Ando
Drawn in the Mundi Mundi Plains in Australia using a tractor, this can be seen in Google Earth historical imagery from 2002. Read more about it here.
Black Rock Desert by Jim Denevan
Drawn in the Black Rock Desert using trucks and GPS near the location of the Burning Man festival in Nevada. This is the largest of the three. It is visible in historical imagery from September 2010. Read more about it here.
To view them in Google Earth, download this KML file.
Do our readers know of any other artwork at this scale visible in Google Earth?
Tokyo artist, Yassan lays claim to the world’s largest marriage proposal written using GPS tracks shown in Google Earth.
You can see some of his work here and watch a YouTube video about him below:
Yassan is not the only person to think of writing with GPS tracks. Nick Newcomen created some even bigger writing by this method, which we looked at in 2010.
From October last year, Google stopped accepting user created 3D models into Google Earth. Instead, they have been rolling out automatically generated 3D imagery. Both the 3D ‘Earth View’ in Google Maps and the mobile version of Google Earth do not show the user created models – sticking to the automatically generated 3D mesh for some cities, and the 3D terrain (from various sources) for the rest of the earth’s surface.
The video is an ode to Google Earth, the band’s long-standing favourite computer program. As cartographic enthusiasts they’ve spent vast amounts of hours over the years excessively exploring its virtual environments. Last year they noticed its crowd sourced 3D modelling project, which allowed the public to recreate the world’s buildings in 3D form, had come to a close. Millions of these CG SketchUp models are now being replaced by auto-generated 3D mesh buildings through photogrammetry technologies.
To farewell these previous crowd sourced 3D creations, the band wished to have a final celebratory song and dance through some of their favourite sites across the virtual globe. A technological last rites before the new dawn.”
Back in July, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. We showed you some Digital Globe imagery of the crash site, which has since, in addition to other images, been added to Google Earth’s historical imagery.
It is generally believed that flight MH17 was shot down by pro-Russian separatists using a surface-to-air missile, but Russia has put the blame on the Ukrainian government. Official investigations into the crash have not yet made any findings as to who is responsible.
Last Friday, November 14th, 2014, Russian state television aired a story in which they showed satellite imagery purported to be of Flight MH17 being shot down by a fighter jet. However, it seems pretty clear that the image in question was a poorly done fake. For the full story and analysis of the imagery see the the article on bellingcat here.
We have created an image overlay of the photo for you to view in Google Earth which you can download here.
The picture that supposedly shows a fighter jet shooting down flight MH17. A high resolution version can be found here.
The mapping data in the desktop version of Google Earth is currently a separate database from that in Google Maps. The Mobile version of Google Earth was recently given a complete rewrite and now uses the Google Maps data as its source.
In the past, Google would periodically update the Google Earth mapping data from the Maps database, but as far as we can tell that has not happened for at least a year. This means that the street data in Google Earth is now significantly less accurate than the data in Google Maps. However, the search function in Google Earth appears to use the same search engine as Google Maps. This means that even when a road has not been put into Google Earth, it can still be found via the search function if it exists in Google Maps. An example of this is
Lunga St, Livingstone, Zambia which I added to Google Maps in September using Google Map Maker. If you search for it in Google Earth, it finds it and displays it in the correct location even though it does not show in the ‘roads’ layer.
The same is true for many other features found on Google Maps that are not visible by default in Google Earth. Many business locations added to Google Maps using Google My Business do not show in any layer in Google Earth, but can be found using search.
Another street I named recently is Sichango Road. If you search for ‘Sichango Road’, Google Earth finds it correctly. If you search for ‘Sichango Road, Livingstone, Zambia’, Google Earth says ‘We were not able to locate the address’. If you search for ‘Sichango Rd, Livingstone, Zambia’, it does not find the road itself, but does find some nearby businesses.
Lunga St, Livingstone, Zambia can be found through a search even though it is not in Google Earth’s street data.
The Maps Gallery hosts an impressive collection of maps. Although the maps can be viewed directly in the Maps Gallery, many of them are much better viewed with Google Earth, especially for maps that have a lot of detail. There are also a few, such as the collection from the SETI Institute that we showed you, that give a much better global perspective when viewed in Google Earth.
There are two different ways to get Maps from the Maps Gallery into Google Earth. The first is by simply clicking the button near the bottom right corner of the map that says ‘View in Google Earth’. This will download a KML file named ‘map.kml’ and uses a special type of network link that shows the KML under the ‘Layers’ pane in Google Earth instead of the usual ‘Places’. It is impossible to save it in Google Earth, or export it to KML. We believe the purpose of this is a form of copy protection. The downside is that you cannot even save the link, so if you need to view the Map again at a later date, you need to reopen the downloaded ‘map.kml’ file.
The second way to get a map into Google Earth from the Maps Gallery, is by clicking the ‘Share’ button which looks like three dots with lines between them, and is found near the top right corner of the map when viewed in the gallery, or if you have opened the map to full screen it is in the map key near the top left. Select ‘Download KML’ from the drop down menu. This downloads a KML file that can be viewed in Google Earth and loads in the ‘Places’ pane and can be saved to ‘My Places’ or exported to KML.
However, not all maps show the ‘View in Google Earth’ button (such as this one ) and many maps have the ‘Download KML’ option greyed out (this includes the ‘Latest Google Earth Imagery Updates’ map). Also, using the second method, there is the option to download the KML for a particular layer, and in some cases such as this map the only layer available by this method is the map legend, which isn’t very useful. The same map shows all layers in Google Earth when viewed using the first method.
1. View in Google Earth button – loads the map in the ‘Layers’ pane and cannot be saved.
2. ‘Download KML’ link – loads the map in the ‘Places’ pane and it is saveable.
The map shown above can be found here.
The post Viewing maps from the Maps Gallery in Google Earth appeared first on Google Earth Blog.
Hot on the heels of the recent imagery update on November 3rd, Google’s ‘Latest Google Earth Imagery Updates’ map now shows another update for November 8th, 2014. Thank you to GEB readers André and Martin for alerting us to it.
It looks like a very significant update notably to areas that previously had poor coverage.
UPDATE: It appears the update is now visible and imagery has been found by our readers, and confirmed by GEB, in many locations. Lots of new imagery to explore!
However, we have been unable to match the areas outlined to any specific imagery in either Google Earth or Google Maps. Is the imagery not yet published, or was it an update to the base imagery used when zoomed out? Do our readers have any ideas?
UPDATE 2: The imagery is now available in ‘historical imagery’ so you can now also see the imagery that was not in the default layer.
Latest Google Earth Imagery map – November 8th, 2014 Larger version.
In Google Earth, satellite imagery is not always perfectly aligned, which is to be expected, given the complexity of fitting an image that is typically taken at an oblique angle to the earth’s varied terrain. Despite that, in most cases the imagery is remarkably well aligned and can be used to correct mapping data from other sources that is often considerably less accurate. Google has continuously improved their systems to increase the accuracy of imagery placement.
We have recently come across what appears to be a satellite image that is entirely misplaced. GEB reader Horváth inquired about the satellite imagery not matching the street map in Kutaisi, Georgia. We had a look and it is clear that as of this writing, there is a misplaced satellite image for the region. There is correct imagery in ‘historical imagery’, but the default image in Google Earth and Google Maps is incorrect. To see the location for yourself in Google Earth download this KML file. We were unable to identify where the image is from.
Misplaced satellite image in Google Earth.
When zoomed out a little, a correct image can be seen.
On 29th October 2014, there was a landslide in the district of Badulla, Sri Lanka, which hit the village of Koslanda. A site called Groundviews has managed to obtain satellite imagery from Digital Globe showing the landslide and they also include a KML so that you can view it in Google Earth. Find the story and KML here.
The Koslanda landslide – imagery from Digital Globe