See the update below. I was right: Google’s new bot detection is overly naive, and I’m not the only one having problems.

See also John Cowan’s comment below, for a different (personal) interpretation of Google’s terms of service.

Google Maps won’t show me satellite imagery this morning.

Google has recently set up a system to try to autodetect and block bots scraping their system, and it isn’t working very well — people are getting blocked even from Google Search simply because they have too many (human-generated) queries passing through the same proxy.

This morning, I suddenly discovered a different problem: the satellite view in Google Maps has stopped working for me — I get the “don’t have imagery at this zoom level for this region” error everywhere, at every zoom level. I can still see maps and terrain, but not satellite pics, and I noticed the host setting a lot of cookies.

Is Google’s satellite imagery down for everyone else this morning, or has their software decided that I’m a bot trying to scrape satellite imagery?


I was right — Google’s software had decided that I was a bot. They have a test link directly to a satellite to see if you’re being blocked:

It took me to this page. I was able to renable access simply by entering a CAPTCHA.

What happened?

I wrote a couple of months ago about how to detect overzoom in Google Maps. My guess is that the overzoom protection in OurAirports — automatically zooming out every 4 seconds until there were actual satellite tiles available — triggered to bot alert, and I’ve disabled the feature for now.

That’s very bad news for any mashup that uses JavaScript to do more sophisticated things with Google Maps, like, say, panning at regular intervals. Google’s bot detection seems to be extremely naive, and any repeated action at regular intervals will fire it off.

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3 Responses to

  1. John Cowan says:

    Technically, David, you *are* a bot. The zoom-out feature, while very cool, is the use of automation rather than direct human action to trigger actions at Google’s servers. You might want to read the TOS again at, specifically the second sentence of clause 5.3.

    After all, your program only hits Google a few extra times per user, but it adds up, and where is Google supposed to draw the line between that and an attempt to download a whole lot of imagery for who-knows-what purposes?

    I so, so don’t speak for Google.

  2. david says:

    Thanks for commenting, John, and I’ve known you long enough to know you’ve never spoken for anyone but yourself.

    5.3 is a little fuzzy — after all, all Google Maps mashups involve scripts. My interpretation is that the action to view an airport *is* initiated by a human, and the script just adjusts the view. Most of the time, there is no auto zoom: it happens only when an airport is in a remote area (such as the Arctic) where there are no satellite tiles available at the default zoom level, so nothing would otherwise appear on the screen. There is no zoom once the server actually delivers satellite tiles.

    Similarly debatable cases would include someone clicking on a link that opens two or three maps on the same page (one human action = three maps), a mashup that does a map slideshow of your trip, showing the map of each city for 10 seconds before moving to the next one, or a map that animated (say) Magellan’s route by drawing an animated line and moving the map to follow it. I don’t *think* Google means to ban apps like these — it’s just a matter of bot-detection software that’s not quite ready for Prime Time. I’ve noticed in the help forums that some places where lots of people access Google Maps through the same firewall proxy have lost access to Google Maps completely, and some have even lost Google Search, so it’s a widespread problem.

    None of this is to take away from my gratitude to Google for providing these services — I’m very much in their debt, and just want to help make things better.

  3. ultra says:

    I was banned too from viewing satellite images on
    You discovered how to remove de IP ban?

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