Sweden is upset that they’re visible from space

A few weeks ago, we showed you how France had tried to hide the location of a nuclear plant, after that plant made news after a minor explosion. We showed you how it was hidden in Google Earth by their imagery provider, but was clearly visible by using historical imagery.
A similar situation has just come up in Sweden. Stefan at Ogle Earth has written a great summary of the story, but it goes something like this:
• Some of their “military secrets” are visible on Google Earth, but not on their local mapping sites (Hitta.se and Eniro.se).
• Google uses imagery from Lantmäteriet to cover parts of the country, and Lantmäteriet sensors some sensitive areas.
• There are two main underground control centers for Sweden’s air force; one is visible in Google Earth, the other isn’t.
• The one that is visible is because Google is using imagery from DigitalGlobe for that part of the country, and they’re not censoring it.
Stefan goes on to point out something even more interesting — historical imagery of the obscured area from a few years ago clearly reveals the facility, and the imagery was also from Lantmäteriet; they just weren’t obscuring it yet!
The bigger problem is the method of how the imagery is being obscured. In many cases, such as the Netherlands and the French nuclear plant we mentioned above, imagery is simply blurred to hide details of the buildings, like this (KML):


In the case of Sweden, they modify the imagery to look like fields and forests. While this could potentially help hide their secrets more effectively, it also puts into question the accuracy of all of their imagery.
Stefan shows the example of the village of Hästveda, seen below before and after the photoshopping that removed it from their imagery.

As I asked last time, is it becoming futile to try to hide imagery like this? Or should they keep pressing on in order to try to prevent people from discovering the location of sensitive areas?

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.


  1. If I can fly over it in a plane (as of course you can’t with some locations) and see it from there then it is pointless blocking it.
    And considering that these are private companies providing the data I’m guessing that you can see it from a plane!
    Or indeed from the roadside next to it!
    If they are that bothered they should ask to just have a big block saying ‘nuclear power station’ over the whole area so noone is under any misaprehension that the data is incorrect.

  2. For centuries, maps have been altered or censored to hide sensitive (usually military) features from the public or anyone else who doesn’t “need to know” so it’s no wonder the habit isn’t dying out. The problem is though that in an age of an increasingly network populace, this kind of censorship is constantly less effective and more futile, to the point of being ridiculous. It did make some sense during a time (such as the Cold War) when it really wasn’t that easy for the common man to aquire and/or to publish information or data, but today, censoring installations like this is a useless effort. If anything, it’s a variant of the “Streisand Effect” in that such shenannigangs raise attention and irk people enough to look at it even more closely. And if they can’t get the information they’re looking for in one place, well then they simply go somewhere else to find it. This type of mapping censorship isn’t just futile, it’s even counterproductive.

  3. Paul van Dinther says:

    Censoring maps is a waste of time. The horse has bolted and the data is out there. What is more significant is that Joe Blogs is unlikely to use this sensitive data. Folks that would have access to their own satellites and are unlikely to turn to Google Earth.
    The fact that we see an increase of censorship on map data is scary. It is not so much that old censorship habits continue. I believe they are on the increase as the so called free western world is increasingly becoming a less free place.

  4. Yeah, I have a hard time believing GeoEye, et al don’t censor domestic US imagery when ‘asked’ to by the Pentagon, CIA, etc. I think it all looks so clean… precisely because it’s already been scrubbed.

  5. Ohh, So they censor all of the Nuclear Power Plants in the world but Indian Point Power Plant in New York which would kill everyone in NYC and surrounding areas (including where I live). Indian Point is even in 3D in Google Earth…. They need to fix this.

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