Doctored Google Earth Images: Is Google Helping China Falsify Information?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A dam located about 100 km NE of Lhasa, known as the Zhikhong Dam, is mysteriously vague in Google Earth (GE). A new high-resolution image in GE shows the area including the large reservoir, but the precise location of dam and power station is a low-resolution image, and the boundary between them is curved. It is possible to see strips of old images between new images in GE but in this case it fits the end of the reservoir exactly, and the boundary between the two images is curved, which is unusual.

A jpg image of the region taken from GE is posted here (below). I don't know how to upload kmz files or links that will take readers directly into Google Earth. So readers interested in looking up more closely should use the coordinates at the bottom of the image. Going up closer to the location in GE is much more convincing than the jpg photo shared here.

I told this observation to a friend and colleague from Green College, who used to work for Google Maps, the amazing Ducky. She checked the images and found them suspicious. Upon her advice, we decided to alert Google Earth about this and to see their response.

What do you think is going on here? Is Google Earth covering up for China? Or is someone supplying GE with doctored images? Or may be someone in Google Earth is working against company policies?

Did you know that a giant alian bug was found in a part of Germany in GE?


Rinchen said...

It will b interesting to learn about google's response. :)

The Tibetan Plateau Blog said...

Indeed, Rinchen la. I will post updates if we hear anything from Google. Thanks for visiting.

PeeWee said...

It's clearly visible in the browser version as well:
You may zoom in further. That looks really suspicious…

The Tibetan Plateau Blog said...

Thanks PeeWee!

Anonymous said...

cant solve this I am afraid, but to deepen the mystery, I get a very clear image dated Sept 12 2004 which is better than the 2007 jpg posted on this blog

The 2007 image also appears to be older (as well as being doctored) than the 2004 one.....

The one I get shows the dam clearly and having been to the region I would GUESS it to be a 2008 image or so. Indeed if it was not for the date, I would presume that GE had replaced a dodgy image with a more modern one.

So the query is can we really trust the GE date?

have to sign on as anon because it doesnt like an open id of....

Stone Routes

Anonymous said...

dont mean to be too pedantic, but GE has Drigung monastery, Lhvnzhub, Lhasa China (as it calls it ) in the wrong place.

GE flies me to, a mountaintop far away from the river, alt 5095

unless the monks have suddenly decamped I believe the correct location to be, alt 4024

No date on this image and one of the blurry ones, so probably a genuine error but it appears to be in the GE database and needs to be corrected if anyone knows how.

Stone Routes

The Tibetan Plateau Blog said...

Hello Stone Routes, these are very interesting findings. Please save the Sept 12, 2004 image and send it to ghangkar at yahoo dot com

Not sure how GE dating and uploading system works. It seems like depending on when and where we look, we may get different kinds of images, perhaps a signal of GE using multiple computers at multiple locations, uploading images at different times? Not sure here. As for having place names pointed at wrong locations, I have never tried marking it publicly but it seems to me that many of these locations and photos on GE are uploaded by ordinary users from everywhere. Also, it is partly due to the extent of zooming and precision people care to take when they mark the pointers.

Anonymous said...

I do not believe this ...but when I tried to fly there again, to complete the request above, GE had reverted to the Jun13 2007 doctored image.

I definitely did see a clear photo dated 2004, but probably later, and wish that I had saved it. I was not even sure I could do this anyway but never got the chance. Did anyone else manage to see it (or can still)?

maybe I need new glasses. DO NOT UNDERSTAND THIS AT ALL
so no email, sorry

Stone Routes

Anonymous said...

guess what, checked the GE 90 seconds after last post and back the good photo was.

so no tech wiz but hope I have sent a copy as requested

do not know what I will get next time I fly there , hope it is 1949 or prior as the modern world is too confusing

let me know if email arrives and could you post it somewhere for others via blog, kmz (whatever that is I thought it sounded professional) or even wizardry.


Stone Routes

Anonymous said...

Pulled up commercial imagery from that clearly shows the reservoir and the entire hydroelectric dam. Don't think problem on GoogleEarth is intentional. Picture of commercial image is at

PeeWee said...

It doesn't let me rest, so there's another suspicious discovery in this case: If you move the historical imagery slider in Google Earth (not possible in Google Maps) back to 2007 you will se that an image for this sector was added, and already on this one the dam area was erased so that the low-resolution image below shines trough. In 2009 a third image was placed in between the two:
Zhikhong animated

Anonymous said...

Hello all - does anyone know whether there have been any developments in this Google/Tibet situation?

Tashi said...

Hello, please see this update on the topic.