Experts weigh in on Google’s delayed removal of dead teen’s image

Not even Google can easily fix a picture on its maps site.

Google says it will take more than a week to replace the disturbing image of a 14-year-old boy’s body near North Richmond railroad tracks. Others say the company should take more urgent steps to remove the photograph. As of Friday, the image is still visible to the public.

“We have a team working on this as quickly as possible,” said Susan Cadrecha, senior communication specialist for Google.

Kevin Barrera was shot and killed in August of 2009, on a day when a previously scheduled aircraft hovered over that specific North Richmond area and captured the image. Last week Barrera’s father, Jose, was shown the image on Google maps, and he requested that the Internet giant remove the content.

Google says its high quality mapping imagery used to take the image, requires more time to update. But some experts disagree.

“I wouldn’t think cutting a few corners to accomplish this for the sake of the family would be a huge task,” said Paul Barrow, president of Aerial Photo Group, LCC, a partner of DigitalGlobe.  “They should have the resources to get it done, if Google doesn’t, nobody does. Most likely…they are processing this request for the next database update and not going out of their way to make an exception.”

But other satellite and aerial image specialists say that it is understandable that the fix would take some time.

“I am surprised they can mobilize that quickly,” said Jim Plasker, executive director at American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. “Also, some portion of the time period quoted will likely be required to properly process the imagery they do acquire so that it ties to the surrounding images and the map base.  Aerial mapping is a complex process in order to get it right.”

In addition, for an aerial image, aviation sources say the aircraft would have to fly the exact same heading and at exactly the same altitude for the “fix” to be compatible.

Weather and seasonal issues could also pose a problem. The image was taken in the summer of 2009. With fall weather in full swing, cloudy skies and rain could make taking an accurate replacement image more difficult.

Google map images are usually updated every one to three years. The image of Barrera is more than four years old.

“We are accelerating the update of imagery in that area,” said Google’s Cadrecha.

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