Why does Gaza appear blurry on Google Maps?

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This is a problem highlighted by researchers using open sources, including map data, to locate attacks and document destruction.

“Our inability to receive high resolution satellite photos of Israeli and Palestinian territories bothers us,” says open source researcher Samir.

In fact, most Israeli and Palestinian land is shown on Google Earth with low resolution photos, although satellite companies have higher resolution images.

For example, it is difficult to choose cars in Gaza. In Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, cars are clearly visible and even individual people can be selected.

WHY ARE SATELLITE PHOTOS IMPORTANT?

The use of satellite photos has become an essential element in reporting on the conflict.

In recent events in the Israeli and Palestinian territories, open source researchers are attempting to verify targeted buildings in Gaza and Israel using satellites.

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However, on Google Earth, the most widely used satellite photo platform, the latest images of Gaza are low resolution and therefore unclear.

“The most recent Google Earth photos are from 2016 and look like garbage. I zoomed in on a random rural area in Syria and over 20 high-resolution photos have been taken since,” Aric Toler said on Twitter, reporter at Bellingcat. .

Google says it aims to “regularly update densely populated places”, but that is not the case in Gaza.

ARE THERE HIGH RESOLUTION PHOTOS?

Until last year, the US government restricted the quality of images of Israeli and Palestinian land that US companies could supply commercially.

This restriction was contained in the Kyl-Singaman (KBA) law of 1997, which was intended to support Israel’s security concerns.

According to KBA, US satellite photo companies were able to provide photos with a pixel size of at least 2 meters (which would make an object the size of a car visible, but not smaller).

It is common to scramble areas such as military bases, but the KBA was the first time that an entire country was subject to such a restriction.

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Only the name of Israel was mentioned in the law, but also applied to the Palestinian territories.

But when some companies, like the French Airbus, started providing high-resolution photos, the United States came under pressure to end this restriction.

In July 2020, the KBA was abolished and the US administration now allows it to provide photos of the region in much higher resolution. (Each pixel can be as small as 40 centimeters, so that people can be easily identified)

“The first goal was scientific. We wanted a continuous source of data for our project. So we needed to have access to similar high-resolution photos in occupied Palestinian lands along with other parts of the region,” says archaeologist Michael Fradley. from the University of Oxford. academics who campaigned for a change in the law.

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WHY IS GAZA STILL FUZZY?

The BBC has spoken to both Google and Apple, whose map app has shown satellite photos. Apple said it has updated its maps and will soon have a higher resolution of 40 centimeters.

Google said it has obtained its photos from a number of suppliers and that “the higher the resolution the photos, the more opportunities it sees to update the satellite photos.” However, the company also pointed out that “they have no plans to share” at the moment.

Bellingcat open source researcher Nick Waters wrote on Twitter: “Given the importance of recent events, I see no reason for a deliberate degradation in the quality of commercial photos from this region.”

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WHO TAKES THE PHOTOS?

Mapping platforms like Google Earth and Apple Maps rely on companies that have their own satellites for photos.

Maxar and Planet Labs, one of the largest in this field, are currently preparing high-resolution photographs of Israel and Gaza.

In Maxar’s written statement, it was stated that “With the latest changes in US law, photos of Israel and Gaza are provided with a resolution of 40 centimeters.”

Planet Labs has also confirmed that photos with a resolution of 50 centimeters have been provided.

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However, open source researchers depend on free mapping software to use and do not have direct access to these high-resolution photos.

Why Gaza looks blurry on Google Maps

WHAT CAN HIGH RESOLUTION PHOTOS GET OUT?

Human Rights Watch researchers collaborated with Planet Labs in 2017 to uncover the military destruction of Arakan Muslim villages in Myanmar.

They documented the damage discovered in 200 villages in the region, with photographs with a resolution of 40 centimeters.

This evidence confirmed claims that villages of Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar to Bangladesh have been targeted by the military.

Satellite photographs have also played an important role in revealing what happened in China’s Xinjiang region. These included “re-education centers” built for the Uyghurs.

The photos showed where they had been built, and the satellite photos also gave an idea of ​​their size and specifics.

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