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Google Using Pre-Katrina Imagery on Google Maps 242

Posted by Zonk
from the errr-huh dept.
Thirdsin writes "CNN reports that images of lands devastated by Hurricane Katrina have been replaced on Google's map service with pre-Hurricane Katrina imagery. Now a subcommittee from The House Committee on Science and Technology has asked CEO Eric Schmidt for Google's motivation behind the imagery switch. '[Congressional subcommittee chair Brad] Miller asked Google to brief his staff by April 6 on who made the decision to replace the imagery with pre-Katrina images, and to disclose if Google was contacted by the city, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey or any other government entity about changing the imagery. "To use older, pre-Katrina imagery when more recent images are available without some explanation as to why appears to be fundamentally dishonest," Miller said.' It is worth pointing out that images from Google Earth have not been changed."
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Google Using Pre-Katrina Imagery on Google Maps

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  • We'll never know (Score:3, Interesting)

    by timeOday (582209) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @03:50PM (#18558011)
    Obviously google is going to say this is because of some little technical reason, and there's no real meaning to it. Is that true? Probably, but maybe not. We'll never know.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Well, the pre- images are unflooded. I don't think most of the area is still flooded (though a lot is pretty grim looking), so the flooded pictures that were up for so long, while fascinating, are probably even more inaccurate than the pre- images. Really, Google should find *recent* photos, and use neither the sensationalist flooded ones nor the pristine pre-flood ones.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Curtman (556920)
        They do this in areas that are completely unrelated to Katrina as well.. This [google.ca] road now exists, and doesn't in fact go through those buildings or those fields. That construction project in that area took almost 2 years to complete and Google shows it as it was before it began. I doubt it's a conspiracy, but probably due to being a cloudy day during the last pass of the satellite.
  • Dependency on Google (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @03:51PM (#18558015)

    My guess is that one reason the senator cares is that his staff rely on Google to get their job done. It's interesting to see that throughout the federal government, workers are becoming dependent on various Google information services despite the fact that the govt. has put a lot of effort into building its own mapping services .

    I wonder what other parts of government are dependent on Google's functionality, and what would happen if Google was interrupted.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by j-pimp (177072)

      My guess is that one reason the senator cares is that his staff rely on Google to get their job done. It's interesting to see that throughout the federal government, workers are becoming dependent on various Google information services despite the fact that the govt. has put a lot of effort into building its own mapping services.

      I see this as a good thing. Lets have massive reductions in the government mapping department. Fire some unnecessary employees and make whatever raw photos and GIS data the government collects easily available to google maps and potential competitors.

      • by Teun (17872) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @05:23PM (#18559125) Homepage
        I don't guess but am pretty sure you missed the reason for concern in the original article.

        Becoming dependent on a commercial entity for providing you with data important for the ability of your democraticaly chosen government to take decisions is extremely dangerous.

        When you on occasion not like the actions of your elected officials you would take corrective action at the next election, something you can't do with a Google.
        • by j-pimp (177072)

          When you on occasion not like the actions of your elected officials you would take corrective action at the next election, something you can't do with a Google.

          Except it seems the government cannot provide a mapping service adequate for its needs. They should find a way to facilitate competition for google maps if they do not cooperate. They could provide grant money to someone that would make an open source version of google maps where you could download the data and source code and run your own map web site.

      • by segfaultcoredump (226031) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @06:59PM (#18560391)
        I happen to work for a county and support our GIS group (along with a dozen other county departments)

        Lots of the folks in the GIS group use google maps and google earth for quick and dirty stuff. We even use a google maps mashup on our main site for anything that requires a quick and dirty mapping application (voting locations, locations of sex offendors, etc)

        That said, it is not a replacement for the GIS department, but it does help keep the size of the department in check. There are a few gotchas with the use of google:

        1) Google earth is not free.
              It is free for non-commercial use only. Everybody else has to pay.

        2) The imagery is old
              We do flyovers every two years minimum. The stuff on google is often 5+ years old for some parts of the county (the copyright date gets updated, but the images do not)

        3) The data is not nearly as accurate
              For quick and dirty work, google earth is ok. But we have had to work on areas where google only has 1m or worse. We have 6" resolution for the entire county. It is also been rectified and fixed and things like plot lines and street centerlines are dead on. I've played with image overlays before, and google can be 20+ ft off in one direction or another. That is simply not acceptable when you are trying to figure out where you are going to put a street.

        4) Ever try and plot a 6' by 42" map using google earth at full resolution with plot line overlays and dozen of other custom features that the customer wants for a presentation? Didn't think so.

        So, if all the gis department does is provide non-rectified 1 meter satellite photos from 10 years ago... yeah, time to ditch them and use google. For anything else, you are going to need a gis group.... It does not have to be large, but it better exist.
  • by catbutt (469582) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @03:52PM (#18558035)
    is going on.

    Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory, but I'd be willing to bet it was simply decided based on quality/resolution of images, and some underling working on it didn't really think about the fact that it the imagery in question is significantly different from how it looks now.
    • If I do a map of my home, in far-from-Katrina-hit Florida, the imagary is also around two years old (at least.) It's not newly replaced either, it's been pretty much the same maps since I discovered Google maps.

      I'd be surprised if Google has replaced anything, if they have I suspect it was a case of newer imagery being prematurely released and then removed, not anything aimed at New Orleans.

    • but I'd be willing to bet it was simply decided based on quality/resolution of images

      I dunno. The after pictures seemed to have as high a resolution as the before pics IMO.
    • by lawpoop (604919) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @04:14PM (#18558297) Homepage Journal
      "but I'd be willing to bet it was simply decided based on quality/resolution of images, and some underling working on it didn't really think about the fact that it the imagery in question is significantly different from how it looks now."

      I'd like to take you up on your bet.

      If google regularly revises its images on google maps, sometimes rolling them back in time for reasons of quality or resolution, I'd believe it. I doubt that any American would mistakenly upload old images of New Orleans, no matter their seniority or expertise, given what a giant story Katrina was. If it was a simple underling's error, why hasn't it been rolled back yet?

      One factor you are ignoring is that by using old images, they have made their maps less accurate. The idea of a map is that you know where you are and what the things around you look like. Imagine they had access to super hi-rez satellite images from the 1980s. Should they use them? They *do* have higher resolution ...

      Of course not! Lots has changed and been built in the US since the 1980s. You would just be creating a very hi-rez, inaccurate map. Who needs that? Who cares if you have higher-rez images of the past? You don't want them on a current map.

      The fact is that the fallout from Katrina, and the fact that very little has improved two years later, is a serious blight on America's image as a first-world-nation. You expect this kind of thing in Africa or South America. I don't have any evidence for my particular interpretation, but you certainly don't have any for yours.
      • by catbutt (469582)
        So what is your theory?

        Why would they have changed them? Do you think that the city of New Orleans decided it would be better for tourism if people saw the old images, and made a clandestine deal with Google, possibly offering them money, to change it back?

        I'm just having a hard time coming up with any reasonable explanation, other than basically an error.

        Google has a pretty strong history of fighting attempts at marginalizing the information they serve. I can't believe they would knowingly put inaccu
        • by dwillden (521345)
          I too find it hard to believe anything malicious. And why the hell is congress wasting their time and our money on this. Take a look at NASA's World Wind images. They also show Pre-Katrina NO.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jabuzz (182671)
          The U.S.A. is the richest country on earth, yet the state of much of New Orleans is an absolute disgrace. Much of what happened in terms of immediate relief at the time was a total and utter shambles. The long term distribution of aid to those effected has also been little short of corrupt. It really is a shameful episode in the history of the U.S.A.

          Thing is the current administration bears much of the responsibility, and I am sure they would like to have it covered up as much as possible. One way would be
        • by lawpoop (604919)
          I don't have a theory. You don't have to immediately have a theory for every suspicious event. I'm satisfied at this point to say "I don't know what happened, I think we need more facts before we jump to conclusions."

          But, I do have some problems with your theory. First, I don't see any reason to assume 'accident' or 'random chance' by default. Second, I saw this story posted on digg two days ago. If google was interested in maintaining an accurate map, shouldn't they have fixed it by now? Have google's o
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by The-Ixian (168184)
          What about this theory:

          1. Google creates minor controversy over some photos
          2. Google gets free advertising
          3. Profit


          Age old method, we have seen it over and over. Why are people surprised every time it happens again?
      • If google regularly revises its images on google maps
        They do, the images for my city used to have higher resolutions, but a bunch of clouds obscuring parts of it, now there's less resolution, but no clouds.

        So if you see anything good on there, take a screenshot, because it might not be there next time you look.
      • by guruevi (827432)
        Is it actually even worth re-investing in New Orleans? Those are disaster prone areas, kinda like the 3rd world in our own back yard, and unless you keep it up like the Dutch do for all of their country, history will repeat itself. The difference between the United States and the Netherlands is that if the levies break in the Netherlands, half their country will be wiped out. If you would have a barrier that protects all of our northerner states from certain disaster, it would be better protected than Area
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by lawpoop (604919)
          You have a valid point, but I think there will always be a need for a port on the mouth of the Mississippi river. It was the fifth largest port in the US, IIRC. That's the difference between New Orleans and beach-front resort property in Florida. We don't need the resort homes; we do need a port for the Mississippi river. That port will need workers, and those workers will need housing and grocery stores, etc. I think it's a question how far inland we re-build New Orleans. Unless we want a 3rd-world shanty-
      • by Alioth (221270)
        I don't think it's some sort of conspiracy. I've noticed most of Google's imagery is several years out of date - ground features I know have been demolished 5 years ago are still visible in Google's imagery. Windows Live maps is even more out of date - I was looking at the airport I learned to fly at - it was closed and demolished in 2002. MSN's imagery is approximately 7 years old of that area (I can tell because I can recognise the planes on the ground from that time).

        Anyone who relies on Google Maps or M
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        One factor you are ignoring is that by using old images, they have made their maps less accurate.

        One factor that you ignoring, is the 'newer' imagery wasn't particulary accurate either. They showed a city deluged by water - which it hasn't been for over a year now.
         
        Niether the old *or* the new is particularly correct with regards to current conditions.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Dun Malg (230075)

        One factor you are ignoring is that by using old images, they have made their maps less accurate. The idea of a map is that you know where you are and what the things around you look like.
        New Orleans has been dry for over a year, and you think that an image showing it under water is more accurate? The old images which actually show all the ROADS are more useful for navigation.
    • Unless it is stated on Google Earth that the images are Pre-Katrina photos, then what we see is a lie. Why does Google need to lie about knowledge that is public information?
    • My guess is that the older preflood images were better. They were taken before the roads were washed away and that it's easier to see what is going on if you have an accurate map of the area. To tell a person that there is a road when the image only shows water makes maps a remarkably hard endeavor. Whereas roads are a secondary effect of google maps and so the most updated pictures are clearly the best.
    • by Dun Malg (230075)

      is going on.

      Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory, but I'd be willing to bet it was simply decided based on quality/resolution of images, and some underling working on it didn't really think about the fact that it the imagery in question is significantly different from how it looks now.

      I think it's more likely that they rolled the imagery back because the older pics look more like it does now than the newer imagery that shows nothing but water, water, everywhere. The flood images were utterly useless for navigation.

  • Who cares? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Slithe (894946) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @03:53PM (#18558037) Homepage Journal
    Why exactly is this the government being so heavy-handed with Google? Do critical government/health/military services depend on Google Maps? I can't think of any decent conspiracy theory, so I am not sure about this. There are certainly better things Uncle Sam can do with his time than worry about one company's map-charting policies.
    • Google is viewed by most politicians (mind you most politicians couldn't tell you what html is) as being the defacto standard of the internet in terms of searching, maps etc. So when something is falsified, accidentally or on purpose, they view it as their duty as protectors of the American public to step in. It's really all BS. Truth is they don't understand it so they fear it and then begin legislating it. I can't explain it any simpler. I've worked with a lot of these types in the past and if there is an
    • by KwKSilver (857599)
      Tin foil hat: Who is number 3 in internet search? What corporation has at least twice donated $1000-that we know of- to Brad Miller's election/re-election campaigns. The CEO of what major S/W companny has [supposedly] threatened to "fucking kill Google"? Well, this won't kill Google, but every little bit of slime helps. Nah, that's a little too wild. ;-)

      Seriously, as for why Google did it, being a New Awlins expatriate (since 1980), I'd guess that someone in state and/or local government "finagled" enoug
  • What-the? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Etherwalk (681268) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @03:53PM (#18558039)
    Are you kidding? Our Congress is investigating why google has made a change in its maps? And they're fishing for someone to start a political brawl with?

    Don't we have... I don't know, something related to government services that they should be doing? Or, if it's going to be related to business, related to business that has a significant impact on consumers? Or poverty? Or taxes? Or services? Or the debt? We (as a nation) have a nine trillion dollar credit card debt, and we're worried about whether google's mapping decision was something we can get into a political scuffle about?
    • by catbutt (469582)
      I tend to agree with you that this is a waste of time....but the government actually can do more than one thing at once.

      And I'm not sure I understand what you are implying they should be doing about credit card debt.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I tend to agree with you that this is a waste of time....but the government actually can do more than one thing at once.

        That is no doubt true, but the question still remains - what makes this an issue requiring the involvement of government? I fail to see how it's any of the government's business what kind of images Google posts.
        • I'd normally agree as a libertarian, but if, for example, the images were removed due to government pressure, then yes, it is the government's business.
        • You don't understand PR.

          It's very much in the current government's interest to make sure that the American streets in Google Maps are paved with gold. Especially in New Orleans, since focus groups seem to indicate that the public is unhappy with the appearance the city has had since the hurricane.

          You want something with a bit of fluorish, like George W Bush landing on a jet carrier wearing a flight suit, or a trip to Mars or something. Maybe if enough people look at Google Earth, we can save money on all th
    • by Cally (10873)

      Are you kidding? Our Congress is investigating why google has made a change in its maps? And they're fishing for someone to start a political brawl with?

      Don't we have... I don't know, something related to government services that they should be doing? Or, if it's going to be related to business, related to business that has a significant impact on consumers? Or poverty? Or taxes? Or services? Or the debt? We (as a nation) have a nine trillion dollar credit card debt, and we're worried about whether google's mapping decision was something we can get into a political scuffle about?

      You seem to have a naively simplistic idea of how government, the state, congress, and the political system function - and what their function is. Surely this is something most of us figure out fairly early on... around the time you first start notice politicians are making statements that affect your life, but that (a) what they say has little to do with what they do, (b) what they do has little to do with the reality of people's everyday lives, and (c) every elected politician in Washington has an incom

  • by Kid Zero (4866)
    Maybe I'm missing something, but the lower Ninth doesn't look like it's been flooded in my version of Google Earth. Did I miss something?

  • Who knows why they changed it? Who cares? I suspect Google management has better things to do than to sit around discussing whether to put up pre- or post-Katrina images.

    Just use Google Earth if you're going to do anything GIS-related.
    • by catbutt (469582)

      I suspect Google management has better things to do than to sit around discussing whether to put up pre- or post-Katrina images.
      That seems like a reasonable thing for a manager within their maps division to discuss, to me anyway.
    • by SeaFox (739806)

      I suspect Google management has better things to do than to sit around discussing whether to put up pre- or post-Katrina images.

      I would say it appears they don't since they did take down the post-Katrina images to put up pre-Katrina images to start with, causing all of this.
  • by davidwr (791652)
    Someday Google will combine satellite, airplane and ground-level imagery to give limited 3-D flythrough maps.

    Add add animation for changes over time and presto you've got a 4-D map!

    Maybe this is the non-working mock-up prototype???
  • by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Saturday March 31, 2007 @03:57PM (#18558093) Journal
    I'm running the Linux version of googleearth, 4.0.2091 (beta) and the image from New Orleans are clearly pre-Katrina, and are in fact the same images used by maps.google.com (the cars are all in the same places on the roads, for instance.)

    Thad
    • by westlake (615356)
      the image from New Orleans are clearly pre-Katrina, and are in fact the same images used by maps.google.com (the cars are all in the same places on the roads, for instance.)

      Then it becomes fair to ask the question: Of what use is a mapping service if it significantly distorts the reality on the ground?

  • My Version of Google Earth (4.0.2722 Build Date Jan 5 2007)has everything along the New Orleans/Mississippi Gulf Coast damage region pre-Katrina.

    It's fracking useless, guys. Nice going.

    • by Sunburnt (890890)
      Really? I'm running an older version of Google Earth (4.0.2413), and I still have the post-Katrina images over Biloxi, although New Orleans has the pre-Katrina imagery. I didn't think the version affected the images you download: the Burlington, VT images on mine have changed once since I installed this build, without any action on my part. It looks like the Biloxi image is actually newer, as most homes are still covered with blue tarp and the casino that washed ashore has been removed.
  • by instagib (879544)
    Perhaps they were aiming to provide better visibility of streets and buidlings, so it would be easier to find your way around.

    BTW, what about date tagging for each given area (whatever size would be best, I can't guess) you see in GoogleEarth? After all, the image data gets updated continuosly, but also irregularily. It would be nice to even have a history for comparison for each area.
  • It's a map. (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Google is just showing FEMA and everyone else where everything goes. Judging by the results thus far, they have no idea.
    • by dino213b (949816)

      You're on the money there. What's really amusing is that FEMA isn't really doing its job (or wasn't, historically speaking). A little map magic wouldn't affect their performance by all that much. Quoting a FEMA research:

      By 1991, three billion dollars was spent on preparation for a nuclear war while only 243 million dollars was allocated to planning for an actual "natural disaster".

      Acts of God [essayally.com]

      There is a really good book out there written by Ted Steinberg - if you haven't read it, you would enjoy it.


  • We've got to be able to get some imagery on that area, old or new. Well how could they be changing them if they don't know we're coming? ... Break off the attack, the images have been changed!

    I only get cached images. Are you sure?

    Pull up! All Congressional subcommittee members pull up!
  • by SharpFang (651121) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @04:16PM (#18558305) Homepage Journal
    Get directions from New York, ny to Paris, France using Google Maps -> Directions.

    Interesting...
  • Google can do whatever they want, but you have to admit, it seems odd to revert to an older set of imagery. As there was nothing obviously wrong with the existing post-Katrina imagery as far as end users could tell, there isn't any obvious explanation.

    While Google can do whatever they want, *if* some government agency or official asked them to revert to older maps (not that anyone would *ever* try to whitewash their pathetic failures or anything), that would be something to investigate. (We have a long hi
  • I remember way back in Music Match V6.0 something that allowed mp3 file encoding from line in. I was using it to encode my old cassette tapes into mp3 to get them into my hard disk. Almost all my friends wanted to do it and when they downloaded the latest vestion of it, some V6.x, it had been taken out. Luckily I had not yet deleted the old ftp'ed zip file and I gave them to my friends. Despite all the hassles I never thought I had the right to demand MusicMatch to put back the line-in encoding functionalit
    • Luckily I had not yet deleted the old ftp'ed zip file and I gave them to my friends. Despite all the hassles I never thought I had the right to demand MusicMatch to put back the line-in encoding functionality. It is their product, they do what they think is the best for them.

      What gave them the right? The customer is always right.
      If they get enough people clamouring for them to fix this downgrade, then people less lucky then you can use it in the future.

      How did it come to be that a usefull feature should be removed? Did they decide that not capitalising on their investment in feature development made good business sense? Or did some group pressure them to give their customers less digital freedom? Who gave them the right to demand it?

      • Musicmatch was a free software. When you give something away, you have all the right to change what you give away. That is what Musicmatch did. Infact it is nothing more than the right of companies to increase the price of their products as they deem fit. Google maps are free. They have all the right to change what they give away or start charging for it. You, as a consumer, have the right not to buy the product if it is not worth what you are paying for it. But as the age old saying goes, beggars cant be c
  • As a consumer... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by hedgemage (934558)
    As a consumer of Google products, I would like the information they provide to be as accurate, up to date, and as high a quality as possible.
    If I bought a 2007 Thomas Guide map book and found that the maps it contained were less up-to-date than a previous version, I'd be pretty cheesed off. If Google is going to provide maps, they should be responsible enough to keep those maps reasonably up-to-date. The hurricane substantially altered significant areas of not just New Orleans, but the coastline and delt
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Google Earth imagery is worth every penny you paid for it. You paid zero pennies for it and so at this point, you take what they give you or go use an alternative services. Both yahoo and msft are also offering sattelite imagery. Feel free to use them. But if you want to be guaranteed that the imagery you get is the most uptodate and accurate one, be prepared shell out some real money.
    • And how much money have you given google for this service they apparently are obliged to give to you? Maps could go away tomorrow. Tough cookies.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ctnp (668659)
      ... and it's certainly worth our tax money to have this issue in a house subcommittee - just so you can rest assured that the gub'ment has Google's consumer affairs on its docket?
    • As a consumer of Google products, I would like the information they provide to be as accurate, up to date, and as high a quality as possible.

      Then you should have no complaints about Google removing the imagery - as the 2006 imagery that has been in place (as an option) was no more accurate than any earlier imagery. (The 2006 imagery shows vast areas flooded - something not true today.)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by knewter (62953)

      Error or otherwise, it should be resolved.
      I agree with you. The part I disagree with is Congree getting involved in businesses'...business.

      You have a very straightforward way to tell Google your opinion: stop using their products.

      Welcome to the market. Enjoy your stay.
  • Why is Congress asking them this? I just don't see why Congress should have any say in what Google puts on its own website.
  • Bear with me. I know that it doesn't sound reasonable but it is. Perhaps the Pre-Katrina maps better reflect the *current* state of the vast majority of areas affected by Katrina. Just like maps prior to the asian tsunami are now wildly out of date and ones previoius to the tsunami may better reflect the current state of vegetation and industry.
    • maps prior to the asian tsunami are now wildly out of date and ones previoius to the tsunami may better reflect the current state
      Whointhewhatnow?
  • If pre-Katrina aerial photographs are an inferior representation of the Gulf Coast geography, then isn't it also true that snow-free pictures of Montana and Minnesota are inferior? In other words, if you think post-Katrina photos would be more accurate, then you should also agree that snowed-over photos of the northern states would be more accurate. Reductio ad absurdum.
  • ...but the relevant quote is in the summary.

    Miller asked Google... to disclose if Google was contacted by the city, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey or any other government entity about changing the imagery.
    FEMA certainly has nothing to gain from the post-Katrina imagery being visible, so if they 'asked' Google to change things, maybe that should receive public scrutiny.
  • Seriously, doing a witch hunt at google to find out if some unnamed source told them to revert the images? Then what do you do? Publicly shame them (of course if they are controlled by the opposite party should be implied).

    This seems about as wasteful and useless as anything. Claiming it's "airbrushing history" is just grasping for justication.
  • ...THEN they can bitch and moan about them being out of date.

    No government organization should be using a free, third party map and satellite provider for maps and photos they make big decisions from, anyway.
    We have the US Geological Survey, as well as offices with and without acknowledged acronyms, to generate all the maps and photos Congress needs.
  • This is bogus (Score:3, Insightful)

    by briancnorton (586947) on Saturday March 31, 2007 @07:15PM (#18560577) Homepage
    "To use older, pre-Katrina imagery when more recent images are available without some explanation as to why appears to be fundamentally dishonest

    Google Earth/Maps are geospatial tools for navigation, data visualization, aggregation, etc. It is NOT a political weapon, and it is not an ELT for interpreting imagery. If you have imagery of flooded streets or debris covered areas, you DON'T USE IT for navigation. You use imagery that shows the streets and matches your vector data.

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