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Two Letters Re: Nefarious Uses of Google Earth

Mr. Rawles,
I am a collector for a large bank. Before I go out to repossess (“repo”) a car, motorcycle, RV, etc. I use Google map and Google earth to try to locate my collateral.

In most cities and towns Google has paid a company to take street view pictures of your house and property. More often than not, the vehicle is sitting in the driveway or in front of the house and there is a nice picture of it. Also Google earth allows me to see if it is hidden in the back 40. If you look close enough you can see what looks out of place or see the shadows of the vehicle and find the hidden collateral.

Most people leave the garage door open so I can look into it from the safety of my desk. It always surprises me at what I can see from those pictures.

You can also see dog houses, helpful to know so I don’t get bitten while looking at your property from outside the fence (I bring dog treats along to help them keep quiet, works all the time). – J. from Spokane

Dear Jim,
I’m writing to let your readers know that there are services other than Google Earth which may provide detailed overhead photographs of their homes. Most alarmingly, the services complement each other by using different data and photographs, so one should not draw unreasonable comfort if one particular service (e.g. Google Earth ) does not by itself show excessive detail of one’s property. Different sites have different strengths and weaknesses and can be easily combined to provide outstanding intelligence.

The best (worst?) example of an alternative is Microsoft’s Bing.com, whose mapping service features generally inferior satellite photos to Google, but which also provides something called “Bird’s Eye View”. Their “Bird’s Eye View” uses aerial photographs shot from low-flying airplanes, not satellites. Its coverage is spotty in some rural areas, but it is always expanding. Since it uses aerial photos and not satellite photos, it shows a completely different and more natural perspective from Google and therefore complements it nicely. The photos also generally shows much greater detail than Google’s satellite photos.

I used Google and Bing together with other services (FEMA [1] flood maps, etc.) to gather very detailed intelligence on potential retreats before purchasing one. I’m sure the “bad guys” can be counted on to do the same.

I would also caution your reader Garnet (and all of your readers) against relying on perceived data or technology problems, such as ambiguous cursor location, for comfort from any of these sites. They are all constantly “improving” their services. For example, Google has recently added lot lines to maps in some areas, including mine. Previously it was a “secret” (i.e. available only through a records request at Town Hall) that my property is not only larger than one would assume from a satellite photo, but includes a certain feature that would otherwise appear to belong to a neighboring lot. Now it is visible to anyone who cares to check. Regards, – John S.