Arrogance, Thy Name is Brad

Back in September 2006, imagery of the New Orleans area in Google Maps and Google Earth was replaced with higher resolution aerial photographs. If you're a Googler, you probably have at least a vague idea that they do this sort of thing from time to time.

However, in the New Orleans case, the higher-resolution imagery was actually taken before August 2005. In other words, the imagery was pre-Hurricane Katrina; it replaced post-Katrina imagery.

If you're a normal person, you'll probably say: so?

But you might be a certain other type of person. You might be deeply partisan. Or you might be suspicious, bordering on paranoid. Or you might be much more interested in symbolism than substance. Or you might be prone to making serious charges without evidence. Or you might be more than a tad arrogant, maybe without the smarts to back it up. Or maybe you're a publicity hound. Or maybe you get a little thrill from ordering people around. Or you might have been granted, not so much by merit, but by the workings of coincidence and seniority in your current job, a position of somewhat enlarged power.

Or you might have some combination of all those traits, in which case you would be Congressman Ralph Bradley "Brad" Miller (D-NC), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, of the House Committee on Science and Technology. And that would lead you inexorably to write this letter (PDF) to Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google.

In the letter, Congressman Brad summarizes the 3/29 AP news report. (Itself a superficial effort from a wannabe muckraker giving short shrift to a Google spokesperson's innocent explanation.) Brad then "requests" (by which he really means: demands) a "full briefing" on Google's detailed process on maintaining its imagery for the area, and that Google cough up records of any "requests" received from Karl Rove any federal government agency relevant to the imagery.

Then the condescending arrogance is dialed up to 11:

Digital technology has any number of benefits, as Google's healthy balance sheet demonstrates. However, experience has also shown that such technologies pose a particular threat to photography as a representation of reality. While we can understand that Google would prefer the most recent imagery of the New Orleans region for its Web site, to use older, pre-Katrina imagery when more recent images are available without some explanation as to why appears to be fundamentally dishonest. The entire country knows that New Orleans is a great American city struggling to recover from an unprecedented disaster. Google's use of old imagery appears to be doing the victims of Hurricane Katrina a great injustice by airbrushing history.

Google's not just dishonest. They're fundamentally dishonest.

Now, if I ran the Google, my reply to Congressman Brad would somehow manage to work in this quote:

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
    —Mark Twain

But that's just one of the many reasons I'm not running the Google; a public company needs to be a little more diplomatic in dealing with a powerful fathead. So instead, their public response here is well worth reading. Some relevant points:

  • Volunteers at Google worked quickly with NOAA and NASA to publish post-Katrina imagery within days of the storm.

  • They established a dedicated site for Katrina imagery.

  • In addition, Google Maps and Google Earth were upgraded to post-Katrina imagery on April 1, on an expedited schedule.

But really, just ask yourself: is Google likely to be part of some nefarious scheme to "airbrush" history by offering obviously pre-Katrina imagery? How would that deception work exactly, and what would be its purpose? What's in it for them? Who would be fooled? Just what is Congressman Brad on about?

To ask these questions is to answer them. (Specifically: no, I have no idea, don't know, nothing, nobody, see the Twain quote.)

In the meantime, I recalled this article from 2005: "Google's givers go Democratic": a description of how 98% of Google employees' political contributions went to Democrats.

You know that old saying: "A conservative is a liberal who's been mugged." I wonder what happens to a political donor whose company gets mugged by a Democratic congressman?

Last Modified 2012-10-19 1:53 PM EDT