Google Earth has once again come for criticism, when a thief in London used detailed satellite images of Google Earth to rob metal worth £100,000 from the roofs of historic buildings near his home in London.
Tom Berge, a Londoner used Google Earth website to identify and loot, museums, churches, schools and other buildings that had metal on their rooftops, which was easily identifiable on Google Earth by their darker colour.
Sitting at home on his computer and with a few clicks on the mouse, Berge would target his potential next robbery after honing down the site from satellite images of Google Earth.
Planning the robberies in meticulous manner, Berge with the help of accomplices, used stolen cars and ladders to rob metals on rooftops of buildings and with the help of ropes, scaled down the walls and made their getaway and sold the metal to scrap merchants.
During summer, when Berge carried out most of the robberies, scrap lead was selling for about £700 a tonne, but the recession has brought the price down to £350 a tonne.
During the course of one such robbery, Berge was arrested by the police last month and produced before the Sutton magistrates court, where he was sentenced by the judge to eight-month suspended jail term, asked to do 100 hours of community service and put on curfew from 7:00 am and 7:00 pm.
Google has come for intense criticism around the globe for not removing or blurring out sensitive sites, which are being used more and more by criminals and terrorists in their nefarious activities.
Google Earth came under fire from the British government, for showing an aerial view of Britain's top-secret nuclear defence base along with other military sites such as MI6's London offices, Britain's nuclear crisis HQ and the SAS training facility, which, the government says, could help terrorists.
Hamas militants in Gaza have reportedly used Google Earth to target sites in Israeland the Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists from Pakistan, who sneaked into Mumbai last year and created mayhem for three days, used Google Earth to pin point the sites for their missions.
After the Mumbai attacks, the Indian government had asked Google to censor certain vital installations immediately due to security and terrorism concerns, and based on a petition filed by a social activist, the Mumbai High Court, asked Google to blur images of sensitive areas in December, arguing Google Earth "aids terrorists in plotting attacks."
But could also prove counter-productive to Indian intelligence agencies, which use Google Earth in Kashmir to aid them in counterterrorism activities in locating militants.
Last month, Pakistan's English language daily newspaper The News showed, using Google Earth, that the US was using the Shamsi airbase in Pakistan's southwestern province of Baluchistan for launching drone missiles against the al-Qaeda and Taleban militants, much to the discomfiture of the Pakistani government that has been against the attacks in public.
Iraqi insurgents also used Google Earth to pinpoint British military bases, images of which the British army discoverd in the homes of Iraqi insurgents. Joel Anderson, a Republican from the state of California in the US, introduced a bill last month, to fine eeb sites and other online services up to $250,000 per day with a jail term of up to 3 years for the operator for not blurring out schools, places of worship, medical facilities, or government sites on satellite or aerial imagery.
But Google Earth has also been put to constructive use, when scientists developed an interactive map on Google Earth to show fossil-fuel carbon dioxide emissions across the US. (See: Google Earth maps CO2 emissions)
Conservationist, Julian Bayliss, while creating an ecological map of the Mozambique highlands with the aid of Google Earth, accidentally discovered 7,000 hectares of virgin rainforest in the northern part of the country.
Last month, Google Earth helped the Australian government fight the worst and deadliest bushfire in its history, when it created a Google real-time representation map of the areas affected by bushfires and made it available to the State of Victoria's Country Fire Authority via an RSS feed so that they were able to get live information on where the fires were raging. (See: Climate change blamed for Australia's worst bushfire)