Contrary to widely circulating reports on Twitter that it “allowed access to Russia’s military and key sites,” Google says it hasn’t changed how it censors satellite photos of Russia.
The Twitter account @ArmedForcesUkr (which is unverified but has been acknowledged multiple times by the official Ukrainian Ministry of Defense account) published a series of photographs that appear to depict military equipment early Monday morning. “Now everyone can view a variety of Russian launchers, intercontinental ballistic missile mines, command stations, and hidden dumps with a resolution of around 0.5 meters per pixel,” according to the tweet.
At least one of the photographs from the tweet is visible on Google Maps, and it depicts an active Russian military location, according to the media. We were also able to uncover more Google Maps samples of various bases around the country.
However, the corporation claims that this isn’t a new occurrence. “We haven’t made any blurring modifications to our satellite images in Russia,” Google spokesperson Genevieve Park stated in an email to The Verge. While the photographs in circulation are most likely genuine, they were available on Google Maps long before the Ukraine crisis.
It’s not uncommon for Google to obfuscate important sites on their maps, such as military bases. The photos of the French Air Force’s air base 705, for example, are pixelated by Google Maps. However, there are plenty of other military locations that are publicly available, such as the US’s Nellis Air Force Base and even the infamous Area 51, which can also be found on Google Maps.
It’s also worth remembering that large countries’ armies have access to satellite imagery that hasn’t been tampered with by Google.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Google has taken certain steps against the country. In compliance with sanctions, Google has halted ad sales in Russia, disabled access to Google Pay for some Russian users, and barred Russian state media accounts from running advertising on their YouTube channels. Because YouTube includes videos that provide “misinformation” regarding Russia’s incursion, the Russian government has threatened to penalize the corporation.