Is Custom Satellite Imagery or Crowdsourcing in Your Future?

Digital Globe, a commercial satellite image company, has started a crowdsourcing campaign to help find the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. You can go to their Tomnod site, look at satellite imagery of where the plane might be, and tag anything that may look like wreckage or life rafts.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that satellite imagery, especially high resolution near real time imagery, was exclusively for government spy agencies.

Now anyone can obtain up to date satellite imagery with remarkable resolution. (The best resolution is still reserved for government use.) If a recent image is not available to suit your needs, you can actually request a custom image of the location you are interested in – satellite tasking options  are available to order a specific image that will be taken within hours. Another option is to use your own drone, or hire someone with a drone, to take aerial images.

Are there situations where lawyers might want to obtain or use this kind of imagery?

Are there situations where lawyers might use crowdsourcing to help find evidence within satellite imagery or other large volumes of public data?


  1. Some interesting thoughts, David.

    Back when Haiti had the earthquake and people were scattered everywhere, there was a group that coordinated crowdsourcing of photo matching–matching photos of people missing with photos of people in the streets. I remember spending many hours from my livingroom in Toronto using a game-like interface looking at photos to seeing who might be a match. Presumably someone on the ground in Haiti could then follow up on possible matches.

    My question would be motivation: why would people help sift through possible evidence? What would compel them to spend hours or even a few minutes doing this? That could be the biggest hurdle.

  2. Yes, there would have to be motivation to do that. We know there is motivation for helping match missing people after a disaster, and finding a lost airliner.

    There might be motivation for things like class action lawsuits against those who may be responsible for a man made disaster. Anything that could help people people perceived as victims or disadvantaged might work. Or anything perceived as helping to bring bad actors to justice.

    The challenge of the lawyers involved would be to make a very simple compelling statement that would bring out that motivation.

  3. That does sound compelling. I think it could work.

  4. Really interesting David, thanks​!​

    I think that you would be really interested in some of the most cutting-edge research that I have come across explaining crowds, open innovation, and citizen science.​

    And you may also enjoy this blog about the same too:

    Powerful stuff, no?