Google says it hasn’t made changes to how it censors satellite imagery of Russia, contrary to widely circulated claims on Twitter that it “opened access to Russia’s military and strategic facilities.”
Early Monday morning, Twitter account @ArmedForcesUkr (which is unverified but has been cited several times by the official Ukrainian Ministry of Defence account) tweeted a set of images that appear to show military equipment. The tweeted message translates roughly to: “now everyone can see a variety of Russian launchers, intercontinental ballistic missile mines, command posts and secret landfills with a resolution of about 0.5 meters per pixel.”
⚡️GOOGLE MAPS ВІДКРИВ ДОСТУП ДО ВІЙСЬКОВИХ ТА СТРАТЕГІЧНИХ ОБ’ЄКТІВ РОСІЇ.
Тепер кожен може побачити різноманітні російські пускові установки, шахти міжконтинентальних балістичних ракет, командні пункти та секретні полігони з роздільною здатністю близько до 0,5 метра на піксель. pic.twitter.com/i75wR8Efwo
— Armed Forces (@ArmedForcesUkr) April 18, 2022
The Verge was able to confirm that at least one of the images from the tweet is available on Google Maps, and it does depict an active Russian military site. We were also able to find other examples of Google Maps showing other bases in the country.
However, the company says this isn’t new. In an email to The Verge, Google spokesperson Genevieve Park said, “We haven’t made any blurring changes to our satellite imagery in Russia.” While the circulating images are likely legitimate, they were available on Google Maps long before the conflict in Ukraine.
It isn’t unheard of for Google to blur its maps of potentially sensitive areas, including military locations. For example, Google Maps pixelates the images of the French Air Force’s air base 705. However, there are plenty of other military installations that are publicly viewable: Google Maps lets you see similarly detailed satellite imagery of the US’s Nellis Air Force Base and even the infamous Area 51.
It’s also worth noting that the militaries of major countries have access to satellite imagery that isn’t subject to any modifications from Google.
Google has taken some actions against Russia since the country invaded Ukraine. The company has paused ad sales in the country, cut off access to Google Pay for some Russian users in accordance with sanctions, and banned Russian state media accounts from running ads on their YouTube channels. The Russian government has threatened to fine the company because YouTube has videos containing “misinformation” about its invasion.