Google Maps has changed the way we see the world by literally letting us see the world. You can use your computer to see virtually every corner of the planet displayed in clear photographs. But not every place is open to such scrutiny. A handful of locations have been obscured from view, some potentially for nefarious or mysterious reasons and others for less mysterious ones. For instance, you can request to have your own home blurred out if you want. But that may not be exactly what happened with these other locations.
Google Streetview is a great way to get an idea of what a neighbourhood looks like before you go there or to look at your own house and try to guess on what day the photo was taken. But if you look around enough, particularly in populated areas, you’ll notice that if the Google cameras ever catch a person, that person’s face is obscured. This is a privacy matter, and it makes total sense. Most people don’t want to show up on Google when they never asked to be there.
If you ever happen to look at a map and see a KFC, you’ll notice that the sign for the restaurant is also partially obscured. This is at every KFC everywhere and the part they obscure is the face of Colonel Sanders. The reason? Harland Sanders was a real person and Google was protecting his identity. Not actively, of course, but as a byproduct of the facial recognition software Google uses. This is probably not the best advertising perk for a famous brand, but it happens on posters and billboards as well. KFC is just the most noticeable victim since so many of their signs are affected and they’re such a large brand.
Because the faces are obscured thanks to software, they could potentially all be unblurred. KFC has expressed they’d like the Colonel’s face to be seen but, while the software automatically blurs faces, the unblurring process would likely have to be done manually. This would take time and money and it’s unlikely anyone is interested in doing that.
9. Jeannette Island
Few of us would likely ever be familiar with Jeannette Island, located in the East Siberian Sea, if not for Google obscuring it from view. At just 0.5 square kilometres, it’s not much of an island at all. It was initially claimed by George De Long for the United States back in 1881, but later Russia laid claim to it. Since it’s in the middle of nowhere and is little more than an icy rock, the property dispute has never seemed like a big deal.
On Google Maps, the island is obscured by a black smudge. Naturally, this led to any number of conspiracy theories about the island, ranging from it being a secret army base to an alien presence.
Google wouldn’t comment on why the island was blacked out so it could be something as simple as an error on their end or something more insidious like the conspiracies suggest.
8. Xinjiang Prison Camps
We’re cheating a little bit with this one because everything on Google is banned in China. Google moved their HQ to Hong Kong and China was not pleased. So you can’t actually see anything on Google Maps in China, with the exception of anything that may have been archived prior to 2010. That said, there are other mapping services that China has not banned, including Baidu.
Like Google, this service uses satellite images to build maps. And, like Google, some of those maps have been obscured. One of the most notably obscured locations seems to be a series of prison camps in Xinjiang in the northwest of China.
These camps are where Uyghurs, Muslims and other ethnic minorities are said to be held. An in-depth analysis of maps turned up over 400 facilities in the area. Of that number, 315 are believed to be in service as detention camps or related facilities.
To give some perspective on what that means, it’s estimated that somewhere around 1.5 million people may have been detained in the Xinjiang prisons
7. Ariel Castro’s House
Some of the things obscured on Google Maps are seemingly insignificant at first glance, like a single house. As we said earlier, you can actually request that your own house be obscured, so it’s not too unusual to see this phenomenon. But not all blurred houses are created equal.
The onetime house of Ariel Castro was blurred out on the app and it was definitely not at the request of Castro. Castro is in prison for life plus 1,000 years for torturing three women he held captive for an entire decade.
In 2013, the house was torn down as part of the ruling against him.Google’s photo is still dated to 2009 when the house existed, so the image is still blurred.
6. Beyonce’s House
There’s a 15,000 square foot mansion in the heart of New Orleans’ Garden District that is obscured on Google Maps. Why can’t people see it? Speculation is that the house’s history has made it something of a thing best swept under a rug. To put it bluntly, this house has been a circus for years.
In the modern era, Beyonce and Jay-Z owned the house. They didn’t live there, but they owned it. That alone has been a mysterious thing as they listed the house for sale in 2021, raising the house by $1 million over the course of a week for no reason but using photos from 2015 before someone tried to burn the place down.
The home was originally built in the 1910s as a Presbyterian church. The church bought more and more land and moved and added onto the building over the years. By 1923, the redesigned church was opened by a group of Ku Klux Klan members, which the rest of the congregation cheered. The pastor was apparently the pastor of the Louisiana chapter of the Klan.
In the 1970s, the then abandoned building was turned into a ballet school. The school was gone by the year 2001 when new owners performed the most massive renovation to date, transforming it into a mansion. The property was then bought for $2.6 million in 2015 by Beyonce’s company.
So why is it blurred out? Maybe Beyonce and Jay-Z requested it. Maybe Google was obscuring the Klan history. Maybe it’s another glitch. Whatever the case, there seem to be a good number of potential reasons behind it.
If you go cruising through French Polynesia on Google Earth, you’ll run across the tiny island of Mururoa. It’s about 780 miles from Tahiti and for 30 years France conducted their nuclear weapons tests there. As many as 110,000 residents of nearby islands and atolls suffered exposure to fallout from those same tests, a fact that France was not entirely forthcoming about.
Despite the obviously dangerous sounding nature of the island, there’s still an airstrip there, so it’s technically accessible for anyone with a passionate interest in radioactive islands. If you want to view it from afar, you’ll have less luck, however.
On Google Earth, you can only see half of the island for some reason. The way the image has been presented, the entire right half of the island is obscured behind a blur filter. The left half of the island is just such poor resolution there’s little to see besides the clouds.
There are apparently French troops on site to protect the location. That means the site is still an active military outpost and, as such, the French government may have requested to keep it off the map.
4. Jane Allison’s House
Jane Allison’s house is not visible on Google Maps. It’s a blur, like many houses that have been obscured for one reason or another. Allison lives in Stockton-on-Tee in the UK and her house is the only one on her street that you can’t see. Her privacy is assured, as is the right of any homeowner who contacts Google and asks to have their own home hidden from view.
So, what’s the problem? Jane Allison didn’t want us to see her house. No big deal, right? Not exactly. She had no idea her house was obscured, and she’d been living there since the year 2000. It’s likely that the blur was nothing more than an oversight on Google’s part, but Jane Allison isn’t sure.
At this point, you’re probably asking yourself: who is Jane Allison? She’s… just a regular person. Which makes her residence being blurred out even more baffling.
3. The Amityville House
There are only a handful of houses people around the world will likely recognize on sight. Elvis’s Graceland comes to mind, or the White House, but these are not really just houses, strictly speaking. In terms of just regular houses in regular neighborhoods, there aren’t many that rise to infamy unless they get featured in film or TV in some prominent way. You know, like the Amityville house.
Believe it or not, there are over 30 Amityville movies. Not all of them are in the same series, and many of them just use the name because there’s no copyright on the town’s name to prevent anyone from bandwagon jumping. The original series covered the alleged haunting that took place after the DeFeo murders back in the 1970s.
The “true” story of the Amityville Horror can be debated, but there really was a house that real people lived in. The home has been renovated and remodeled so it doesn’t look the same any longer, and it looks like the current owners also requested Google remove it from Street View.
If you want to check out Israel on Google Maps, there’s a lot for you to look at but one region is notably absent. If you try to look at the Gaza Strip, all you’re going to get is a very poor resolution photo of the area. There are several areas in and around Gaza and across Israel that are obscured from view thanks to low resolution photos that don’t let users zoom in.
Google has said that they try to refresh their database with higher resolution photos when they can. That said, other satellite services provide much higher resolution images of the area but, thanks to its popularity and ease of access, Google is the go to for most people. The reason they don’t clearly show Gaza has been questioned by some journalists since the destruction of war is being obscured.
You’re probably not going to visit Antarctica anytime soon, but if you just want a glimpse, you can turn to Google Earth. Not that there’s much to see there. It tends to be endless fields of snow and the odd rock formation. But there are some sizable swaths of land that Google Earth has blurred out. The reason? Well, that’s up for debate.
Depending on who you ask, the chunks of blurred land in Antarctica are blurred because those higher resolution pictures don’t exist. Why waste resources photographing snow? But other people have suggested that the US is running secret operations in secret facilities!
For what it’s worth, while many websites claim there are no satellite photos of Antarctica, that’s not true. It may have been at one time, but you can actually see much of it today, although it may actually look blurred since all you’re seeing is snow. But there are portions, including research facilities run by numerous countries, that are obscured.