A few years ago, one GIS expert noticed an epidemic of geo-spoofing on the mobile game Pokemon Go; players were using VPNs to trick the game into thinking they were in different locations.
But in a world where many apps, services and even geopolitical decisions rely on geographic data and intelligence, the implications for geo-spoofing could be wide-ranging.
Now, a paper examines how easy it is to spoof satellite imagery and the implications of such a finding.
Summarized by Fast Company:
Their paper, published recently in the journal Cartography and Geographic Information Science, used maps and satellite images from Seattle and Beijing to create real-looking but fake satellite images of a neighborhood within the city of Tacoma, Washington. In the images, Tacoma roads appear in their accurate locations, but buildings from either low-rise Seattle or high-rise Beijing have been swapped in. At face value, the images appear to represent real places.
Turning suburban Tacoma into super-dense Beijing is not much to worry about, but Zhao says faked satellite images could be dangerous. Governments could use them to hide the expansion of nuclear development sites or the location of concentration camps. Corporations could use them to obscure environmental devastation. Urban planners could use them to advocate for growth in unsustainable areas.
But Zhao and his colleagues aren’t just opening a Pandora’s box of potential geospatial deepfakery. They’ve also begun to develop an approach to help identify when satellite images are actually AI creations. Zhao says it could take the form of an application programming interface that geographers can use in conjunction with geographic information systems like ArcGIS.