We reached out to all three companies to find out their policies on censoring maps. Google told us that its mapping data arrives from a variety of sources and from time to time those sources blur parts of the images. If new images arrive that are of a higher quality than its present files, it “may elect to publish [them] even if the provider has blurred certain regions.” It says that, while talks routinely with government and public agencies, it has never blurred any images as a result.
Nokia’s says that has “identified some countries and areas” where authorities do not allow high-resolution data and, wherever necessary, does not publish infringing images. Apple has not responded to our request for comment.
Perhaps the most confusing aspect of the present situation is that the three companies license satellite imagery from similar sources. Nokia counts Navteq, NavInfo, DigitalGlobe, and Planetary Vision among its providers, while Apple also uses DigitalGlobe’s images, and actually cites the company as the sole provider of its satellite imagery, although iOS 6’s 3D maps are from Apple-owned C3 Technologies (which, confusingly, Nokia also uses for its maps).