Palestinian militants have been using Google Earth to aim rockets into Israeli border towns outside of the Gaza Strip.
Say you plugged any random US city into Google Earth. Next, you plugged in the Israeli town of Netivot, which borders the Gaza Strip to the east. You would notice that in comparison the image of Netivot is quite pixelated and blurry. It’s because of the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act that the entirety of Israel can only be viewed in low-resolution.
There’s a good reason for this.
Palestinian fighters are pretty creative. In an interview with Slate, a Gaza militant explained how they use Google Earth to aim the infamous homemade Qassam rockets and Soviet-era Grads into the Israeli border towns surrounding the blockaded Gaza Strip. It’s unclear exactly how the rudimentary artillery placement works, only that the Google program, despite its highly pixelated imaging of Israel, is used to locate targets.
Does this mean that Google Earth is evil?
The software is a fantastic tool when not used maliciously. It allows all of us to momentarily make believe that we’re spies with access to satellite technology. It can be used to explore distant neighborhoods when apartment hunting. It can be used to keep tabs on an ex-girlfriend’s front driveway, to see if some other dude’s car is parked out front (which I’ve never done).
Google Earth gives new potential to entertainment for the virtual globe trotters among us. It was the main tool used to build Arcade Fire’s “The Wilderness Downtown” project last year, which totally reoriented the music video as we knew it. (For the first time in the history of internet advertising, the online interactive music video actually made entertaining use of the online pop-up.)
No, Google Earth isn’t evil. But the best programs always seem to attract the biggest bastards who swoop in and tarnish all that’s good about the internet.
Remember when online instant messaging came out? It was the grandfather of Facebook and it was fantastic—as were those online chat rooms where lonely people with common interests could all talk amongst themselves, anonymously. But then online predators ruined it. One never knew if that person who claimed to be a 15 year-old kid was really some middle-aged man living in his parents’ basement.
Google Earth and instant messaging are entirely different beasts. But what they both can do is make the world we live in feel smaller than it really is, less alienating, and more manageable.
But while those among us like Arcade Fire will use tools like Google Earth to take viewers on a heartwarming virtual trip home, there’s always someone else waiting to use that same tool to aim rockets into the sides of school buses.
As it’s always been, I guess that’s the price we pay for new technologies.