Cops and Robbers on Google Earth

Google Earth and its Street View feature have plenty of uses. They can be used to find directions, check out a neighbourhood before moving in, or to familiarize yourself with an unfamiliar city prior to arrival.

While most people use Google Earth for completely lawful purposes, there are also those who have found the popular software a handy tool for planning crimes or even just having a grand old time at someone else’s expense:

  • The Austrian Independent reported on July 27 that police in the Salzburg area are looking for thieves who scour the local obituaries, knowing that the deceased’s relatives are unlikely to be home during the funeral. In planning their break-ins, they use Google Earth to scout out the neighbourhood around their targets.
  • In 2009, Humberside police in northeastern England received a rash of complaints that expensive fish were being stolen from well-to-do homes with backyard ponds, Britain’s The Telegraph reported. As many of these ponds were difficult or impossible to spot from more than a few feet away from the property, police believed that the culprits were using Google Earth as a search tool.
  • In 2008, British police warned people with backyard swimming pools to be vigilant after receiving reports that teenagers were using Google Earth and Facebook to organize pool parties — at total strangers’ homes. Web Pro News reported that some homeowners were woken up by complete strangers frolicking in their backyard pools, while others found empty beer cans strewn about when returning home.
  • Fresno, California had a slightly different problem in 2009. Teenagers there were using Google Earth to search for backyard swimming pools, according to a wire report published in an Australian newspaper. But they had no intention of going swimming. Rather, these teenagers were using the empty swimming pools in the yards of foreclosed homes as unofficial skate parks. “We have more pools than we know what to do with,”  one skateboarder said of the foreclosure-plagued Fresno area.
  • In 2010, Britain’s The Telegraph reported that the Church of England had filed 8,000 insurance claims worth £23 million ($36 million Cdn. at current exchange rates) over three years  after a rash of incidents where lead covering was being stolen right off its churches’ roofs. With lead selling for £1,530 per tonne in late 2010, crooks were using Google Earth to scout out lead-roofed churches far and wide.
  • In 2010, U.S. National Public Radio reported that California wineries were being plagued by solar panel thefts. While these panels capture the sun’s rays, it was also thought that their easy visibility on Google Earth made them ready targets for thieves.

But if the bad guys can use Google Earth, so can those responsible for preserving peace and order:

  • In 2009, Swiss police used Google Earth to look up the address of two farmers thought to be involved in the drug trade, The Telegraph reported. Their suspicions turned out to be justified. Police not only found their farm on Google Earth, but also a plot where more than a ton of marijuana was being grown, hidden in a corn field.
  • Greek tax collectors took in an even bigger haul when they started using helicopters and Google Earth to find unreported swimming pools. In Athens’ more affluent suburbs, there were only supposed to be 324 backyard swimming pools according to official records. In fact, this was just a mere two percent of the 16,974 swimming pools they counted from the sky, Germany’s Spiegel Online reported.

Semi-related, for your amusement: The street views Google wasn’t expecting you to see – in pictures

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

3 Responses to Cops and Robbers on Google Earth

  1. TRex says:

    Not nearly as sinister as when this technology was confined to the spooks and black helicopter crowd eh!? Anything can be used for a nefarious purpose. Human nature and all.

  2. theviewfromseven says:

    Welcome back to the blogosphere!

  3. TRex says:

    You can check out, but you can never leave.

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