Google Earth: Can it Find You?

Dennis Faas's picture

Could Google Earth's privacy-invading tendencies save your life? Maybe one day, but right now the Internet search leader is on the lookout for missing people. Renowned aviator Steve Fossett is currently on the search list.

The pilot disappeared over the Nevada desert after taking off in a small plane early last week. Two days later Google became involved in the case when his friend, British billionaire Richard Branson, proposed that Fossett be located through the company's satellite mapping service. Branson said "I'm talking with friends at Google about seeing whether we can look at satellite images over the last four days to see whether they can see which direction he might have been flying and whether they can see any disturbances anywhere that they can pin from space." (Source:

But, why Google?

Unlike any other search engine, Google has connections to the many contractors that provide satellite imagery for the Google Earth software. Therefore, its abundance of resources has made Google an important ally for search-and-rescue teams. As well, the company can call in favours in life-threatening situations. For example, most of the images that the average web surfer sees on Google Earth are about six months to three years old. However, when images need to be obtained rapidly, the company can request more recent photographs that have been taken from space.

While this may sound like the answer to many cases of missing people, know that satellite searches are not always successful. When acclaimed computer scientist, Jim Gray, disappeared while sailing on a yacht from San Fransisco, Google helped a rescue team obtain necessary satellite pictures. Unfortunately, despite the information that Google was able to supply, Gray was not found. (Source:

Another problem: not everyone can easily contact the Google company and convince them to help find a lost friend or family member. The Fossett search is an exception and the company refuses to discuss its reasons for getting involved.

Although Google Earth may not find every missing person on its search list, its efforts will greatly increase the chances of a recovery.

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