StreetView killed Bambi, but it fights crime too

With all the attention Google StreetView's clash with a baby deer evoked, it can be easy to overlook the tool's crime-fighting good side. Not too long ago, StreetView was instrumental in returning a kidnapped Massachusetts girl safely to her home, and just recently, it helped a Swiss police team detect a 1.2-acre marijuana field and nab the gang responsible. As with all things Google, you have to take the bad with the good.

And the good can be pretty good, as reported in the Worcester Telegram. When 9-year-old Natalie Maltais was kidnapped by her grandmother and taken to a motel in rural Virginia, Athol police were able to track her down using her cellphone and Google StreetView. The cellphone's GPS data focused on a 300-foot area in Natural Bridge, Va. Using StreetView, the Worcester cops plugged in the coordinates of the area, navigated around a bit and saw a nearby motel that looked promising. When they sent Virginia police to the site, they found the grandmother along with the girl, and returned her safely to her legal guardians. A happy ending.

Similarly, the AP yesterday reported that Swiss police used Google Earth to discover the pot field and make several arrests. While working the case, the police used Google Earth to zero in on a suspect's residence, only to stumble upon the field. Although it had been camouflaged by corn planted all along its perimeter, the weed field couldn't hide from Google's Earth's piercing satellite gaze. The find led to the arrest of 16 suspects who have allegedly sold up to 7 tons of hashish and marijuana, with an annual turnover of 3 million to 10 million francs (or $2.5 million to $8.64 million) per year.

So yes, while Google can be insensitive at times, especially when it comes to images uploaded by StreetView, it's also a proven force for good in the world. In other words, a tool is only as good (or bad) as the person using it. Google doesn't kill Bambis, people do.

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