Google’s stated aim of cataloging and organizing information is now being mixed with humanitarian causes. According to the Times online:
Google Earth, the search engine’s online mapping service, has updated its images of the Darfur region in Sudan in an attempt to draw attention to the plight of people living there.
In partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Google has published new, high-resolution aerial photographs of the area, showing destroyed villages, displaced people and refugee camps. In some places, the resolution is high enough to show the burnt ruins of individual houses.
On one level this is an amazing use of technology to reveal a catastrophic situation that the government consistently denies. On another level, this raises questions about Google’s role.
“It raises the question of what their responsibility is to decide what to cover,” Steve Jones, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said. “This mirrors the type of things that news organisations deal with: deciding how much resources to spend on an issue and what you cover.”
So Google is moving into the role of gatekeeper, deciding what to highlight and how to highlight specific events, places, etc. While it raises interesting possibilities, I figure if Google oversteps the line, the market will help keep them in check.
Google was recently criticised for replacing post-Hurricane Katrina imagery on its map portal with views of the city from before the storm. The company said its use of the pre-Katrina imagery occurred as part of routine enhancements and denied that the move involved political considerations, but it replaced the later images in response to the criticism.