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EPA Taps Microsoft Virtual Earth For Map Making

The deal represents a victory of sorts for Microsoft over Google, which offers similar technology through its Google Earth product.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency will use Microsoft's Virtual Earth mapping technology to map out the locations of oil spills, Superfund clean up sites, pollution concentrations, and other hazards, Microsoft said Thursday.

Under a licensing deal with the software maker, the EPA will gain access to Microsoft's full Virtual Earth platform, which includes satellite and aerial images of most of the planet, and extensible, underlying software that allows third parties to build their own Virtual Earth-based applications.

EPA officials said that the switch to Microsoft's unified Virtual Earth platform means agency staffers will no longer have to undertake the time consuming process of stitching together digital maps from dozens of disparate sources. Previously, the EPA "relied on more expensive and cumbersome desktop applications," EPA Facility Registry System manager Pat Garvey said, in a statement.

By layering its own, internal data on top of Virtual Earth, the EPA plans to roll out a number of new applications designed to help public officials and citizens. Among them: the EPA will use the technology to create an online mapping tool for beachgoers that need information on water quality.

The deal, financial terms of which were not disclosed, represents a victory of sorts for Microsoft over Google, which offers similar technology through its Google Earth product. EPA officials said they selected Virtual Earth over Google Earth in part because Virtual Earth offers a unique, 45-degree viewing angle on its maps.

Not all government agencies are thrilled with Microsoft Virtual Earth, however. Officials at the U.S. Navy are considering what steps to take after the mapping software revealed to the public detailed images of the propeller on a nuclear submarine while in dry dock in Washington state. Submarine propeller design is a closely guarded secret.

Watchdog groups have also complained that online mapping applications compromise privacy because they indiscriminately capture images of individuals going about their daily lives. Canada is reportedly mulling a ban on Google Maps' Street View feature because it may violate the country's privacy laws.

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