When the original Earth program was re-launched in 2005 under the Google brand, there was a lot of interest in it. Being able to view satellite imagery of pretty much anywhere in the world was cool.
However, as time went on, I think we all noticed that buildings in our areas which were knocked down years ago still appeared in the program.
As it happened, Google Earth wasn’t updated instantly, so despite what YouTube videos would have you believe, you can’t spy on your neighbours or track the movement of Chinese naval vessels.
So just how often is Google Earth updated? Well, that depends on a few variables.
As with all mainstream software programs, Google Earth aims to serve the masses. Thus, they invest their funding into keeping the most frequently searched and viewed areas updated. This variable is the most definitive in how often an area is updated in Google Earth.
So for example, New York will be updated quite regularly and in high detail using low flying aircraft to get good resolution imagery. They may also add an extra layer to popular locations which makes prominent buildings 3D. You can see this in the image above.
On the other side of the same coin, in answer to the question how often is Google Earth updated, you can bet your life savings that the imagery of the remote Irish countryside or Russian mountain ranges are still in very low resolution and have never been updated from their original state.
Another reason location might come into play is for security reasons. Sensitive military bases and installations are often blurred and not updated by Google when requested by world governments. Area 51 in the Nevada desert is one which springs to mind, and the Royal Stables at The Hague in The Netherlands is another, as seen below.
Also, Google may cease updating a certain area if they get wind of their imagery being used for military intelligence or crime. For example, Hamas have been rumoured to use Google Earth to pinpoint rocket strikes at Israel from the Gaza strip.
Finally, “˜no fly’ zones and conflict zones won’t be updated with high resolution pictures from aircraft because it’s not allowed for security reasons. For example, you won’t be able to find detailed imagery of Southern Afghanistan or Iraqi mountains due to the current conflicts. All you’ll get are old, blurry satellite images.
Google is sensitive as to how their software is used, as any company would be, and have taken action to prevent it being used in malicious ways.
The Time Factor in Determining How Often Google Earth is Updated
As I’ve referred to in the above paragraphs, the low level, high resolution imagery on Google Earth, such as that of cities and infrastructure is not done by satellites as many people believe. When you zoom in on Google Earth, to the point where you can see your car very clearly parked on your driveway, then that’s the work of aerial photography. If however, your house is a barely discernible brown blob amidst a landscape of psychedelic blurs, then that’s the work of a satellite suspended above the Equator.
Obviously, it takes time for these aircraft to run those photography update missions. They are also run by a number of private companies, not by Google itself, so getting all these images pieced together takes even more time. Finally, the databases cannot be updated until a new version of Google Earth is released which happens every few months. Thus, it takes more time.
On average, imagery of an area is updated every 1-3 years. Some areas are updated more regularly, others have never been updated. It all boils down to where you live and how important Google reckons it is that your area is given fresh images. Most urban areas will have been updated at least once since 2005.
What about your area on Google Earth? Is it regularly updated or are you just a big blurry blob? Let us know in the comments.