Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Google denies Ukrainian reports that it has blurry satellite images from Maps in Russia

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Google says it has made no changes to how it censors satellite images of Russia, contrary to widespread claims on Twitter that it “opened access to Russia’s military and strategic facilities”.

Early Monday morning, Twitter account @ArmedForcesUkr (which has not been verified but has been) quoted several times by the official Ukrainian Ministry of Defense account) a series of images tweeted which seem to display military equipment. The tweeted message roughly translates to “Now everyone can see a variety of Russian launchers, intercontinental ballistic missile mines, command posts and secret dumps with a resolution of about 0.5 meters per pixel.”

The post was quoted by news organizations Like it The Moscow Timesand an English translation of the tweet has been shared thousands of times.

The edge could confirm that at least one of the images of the tweet is available on Google Maps and shows an active Russian military site. We were also able to find other examples of Google Maps showing other bases in the country.

However, the company says this is not new. In an email to The edgeGoogle spokesman Genevieve Park said: “We have not made any vague changes to our satellite imagery in Russia.” While the circulating images are likely legit, they were available on Google Maps long before the conflict in Ukraine.

It’s not unheard of for Google to blur its maps of potentially sensitive areas, including military sites. For example, Google Maps pixelates the images of the French Air Force Air Force Base 705. However, there are plenty of other military installations that are visible to the public: Google Maps will show you similarly detailed satellite images of the US Nellis Air Force Base and even the infamous Area 51.

Pixelated images from Google Maps of the Base aérienne 705 Tours in France.

Images of airplanes from Google Maps at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

It is also worth noting that the armies of major countries has access to satellite images that are not subject to changes by Google.

Google has taken some actions against Russia since the country invaded Ukraine. The company has halted ad sales in the country, blocked access to Google Pay to some Russian users in compliance with sanctions, and banned Russian state media accounts from displaying ads on their YouTube channels. The Russian government has threatened to fine the company because YouTube has videos containing “misinformation” about the invasion.

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