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Google Earth Zooms Into Heart of Darfur's Darkness

By Chris Maxcer
Apr 11, 2007 11:04 AM PT

Google has teamed up with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) to promote awareness of recent atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Google Earth Zooms Into Heart of Darfur's Darkness

The USHMM has assembled photographs, data and eyewitness testimony to form a Global Awareness layer in Google Earth, which Google has enabled by default for all 200 million Google Earth users.

Google Earth is a free application that blends satellite photos with a virtual globe to let users fly around the world and zoom in on any area they want to examine, including specific street addresses. It's handy for navigating cities, finding camping sites or checking out the satellite view of anyone's own backyard.

The layer is called "Crisis in Darfur," and it features icons of fire which indicate villages that have been burned, as well as icons for on-the-ground photographs, video and eyewitness testimony.

It shows 1,600 damaged and destroyed villages, the remnants of 100,000 homes, schools, mosques and other structures destroyed by Janjaweed militia and Sudanese forces.

"Educating today's generation about the atrocities of the past and present can be enhanced by technologies such as Google Earth," Sara Bloomfield, USHMM director, said. "When it comes to responding to genocide, the world's record is terrible. We hope this important initiative with Google will make it that much harder for the world to ignore those who need us the most."

Moving Into Politics

Darfur, despite widespread atrocities, has been largely overshadowed by the world attention currently focused on Iraq, as well as a general lack of media spotlight in the area.

Google's decision to turn the layer on by default in Google Earth, as well as take part in the USHMM announcement yesterday, sheds light on Google's own role in the world.

"At Google, we believe technology can be a catalyst for education and action," said Elliot Schrage, Google's vice president of Global Communications and Public Affairs. "Crisis in Darfur will enable Google Earth users to visualize and learn about the destruction in Darfur as never before and join the Museum's efforts in responding to this continuing international catastrophe."

Google was unavailable for further comment, but Frank Taylor, author of the Google Earth Blog -- which is unaffiliated with Google -- told TechNewsWorld that Google has previously turned on layers by default to draw attention to content they have introduced, including a United States election layer turned on last November, as well as its Geographic Web layer.

Unintentional Effects

Google Earth is available in many languages and on multiple platforms and is widely used around the world, which has led to some interesting effects.

"Google Earth has been very influential on some issues including political, environmental, military and more," Taylor said. "For example, in Bahrain the average citizens discovered what they were missing when they could suddenly look over the palace walls of the upper elite in that country and see the yachts, pools, tennis courts, limousines and huge tracts of lands owned by the royalty and their families."

In addition, environmental organizations are increasingly using Google Earth to present issues and draw attention to damage caused by various forces.

"See the 'mountain top removal' layer under Global Awareness," Taylor noted.


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Assuming that your profession doesn't require it, how do you feel about viewing controversial online content?
It's wrong to view a murder or suicide.
It's wrong to view a rape or child porn.
Both No. 1 and No. 2.
It's wrong to view anything that violates someone's privacy.
It's OK to view anything if you have a good reason.
It's wrong to post certain things but never wrong to view them.