Satellite potential scares students

Meranda Watling

A satellite image of campus captures the outlines and roofs of buildings, making it easy to distinguish one from another.

Dots of different colored cars line the campus parking lots. The old Stopher and Johnson halls still stand, and work trucks are still near Centennial Court.

The image, seen through Google’s recently added satellite map feature and available at, may not be up-to-the-minute — it is actually about six months old — but what it shows is close enough to make some students worry.

“That’s crazy. That’s the kind of stuff you just shouldn’t do,” said Charles Williams, sophomore exercise science and physical therapy major.

Williams admitted, however, that the satellite images are not threatening because they are not very close.

“It’s not really that scary,” he said. “You can’t zoom in that far. It would be more scary if you could zoom in more. It’s just taking a picture. You can’t see what a person’s doing.”

Junior exploratory major Bryan McConaha said he doesn’t think the satellite maps are scary at all. Because the maps are several months old, McConaha doesn’t see the harm.

“They’re not live photos,” he said. “Obviously, there could be a satellite that watches me walk out of my house. There could be, but that’s not how this works.

“I could get a map and find someone’s house just as easily.”

Google Maps’ satellite images were added to the company’s repertoire of search features last week. The satellite maps, which are now available for free, were previously available only by subscription to Keyhole, a company Google bought last year.

The standard street map continues to be the first option available when users search for a location using Google Maps. However, by clicking the “satellite” link in the top corner, it is easy to quickly and seamlessly flip between street and satellite maps of an area. Users can search for images by specific address or by company.

Other sites have offered similar satellite images for years., for example, allows users to search by address. is another Web site that allows people to search and view satellite images from many different companies.

McConaha said he’s used the other sites before and even checked out Keyhole as a free trial. He looked at his hometown and national monuments, like the Golden Gate Bridge and Mt. Rushmore. He said besides being cool, the satellite images are helpful.

“If you’re traveling somewhere that you’re not familiar with and you want to see what you’ll see on the way there, you can go to the satellite image and see what you will be seeing before you go,” McConaha said.

Even Williams said he thinks it could be a helpful feature, but he has some reservations about the future of the technology.

“On MapQuest, it just shows you streets,” Williams said. “On this, you can see, ‘Oh yeah, I passed that,’ or ‘I went over those tracks.’

“That’s kind of cool, but kind of scary at the same time. It’s not harmful — yet. Soon enough, there probably will be something you can zoom in on a single person or a house. There will be a live video. Our privacy is just going every day.”

Contact technology reporter Meranda Watling at [email protected].