Why Norway is blocking Apple Maps from taking 3D images of Oslo

August 13, 2013

Oslo as it currently appears in Apple maps, with no 3D "flyover" view. (Apple Maps)

One of Apple Maps’ few redeeming qualities is a feature that lets you view city buildings in 3D, as if you were flying over them. Unfortunately for both Apple and its users, that feature only works when cities let you photograph them from the air -- which Oslo, fresh off the domestic terror attacks of 2011, will not.

The BBC reports that Norwegian officials have formally rejected Apple’s request to photograph Oslo for the app out of concerns about “the public having access to detailed views of government buildings.” The futility here is pretty apparent: People already have detailed views of such buildings via widely available satellite images, not to mention in-person visits. And anyone trying to plan an attack on an Oslo office would be hard-pressed to do it through Apple Maps, which is admittedly pretty neat -- but also a bit poor quality, and not fantastically detailed.

The whole thing goes to show, however, that the United States isn’t alone in arguably overreacting to terrorism threats. In 2011, a 32-year-old right-wing extremist killed 77 people and injured more than 300 in dual attacks on an Oslo government building and a politically affiliated summer camp. The horrific attack shocked the world but was, for Norway, highly unusual. Since then, Norwegian politicians have generally reacted with a level of reserve that surprised many outside observers -- this may be an exception.

For what it’s worth, Oslo isn’t the only 3D city conspicuously absent from Apple Maps. There are also no 3D flyover views of Washington, D.C., though they do exist for New York.


The World Trade Center Memorial in Apple Map's 3D "flyover" view. (Apple Maps)
Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Max Fisher | August 13, 2013