How to Use MyMaps by Google as a Bare-Bones GIS Tool for OSINT

MyMaps by Google is a bare-bones GIS app that allows you to create custom maps for projects you are working on.  I like it because I can quickly plot markers for locations of interest in an area I’m investigating and reference them when collecting information that is geotagged. It also allows you to create different layers to organize the markers based on type. It has limitations, such as the amount of markers you can put in each layer and the lack of support for Google Street View within the app.  Here’s a guide on getting started with MyMaps.

0. Create a Gmail Account and Create Your First Map

If you haven’t created a Gmail account at this point, I applaud you.  You’ve either avoided the internet entirely, or you created a Yahoo or Hotmail account before Google took over. In order to use MyMaps by Google, you need a Gmail account.  Create one now if you don’t have one. Once you’ve created one, visit the MyMaps website and get everything setup.  Once you’re in, click the red button labeled “+CREATE NEW MAP” in the top left corner.

1. An Overview of MyMaps Features

By now you should see an interface similar to Google Maps on your screen.  Most of your features will be on the left hand side. You’ll see a section that says “Untitled map”, along with a few other features, a search bar, and a few buttons beneath that search bar.  To get started, click on “Untitled map” and give your map a name.  You can also provide a description for clarity. Next, click on “Untitled layer” to describe what you’ll be searching for.  Beneath the layers section, you’ll see “Base map” with a drop down option. There you can change the style to a Google Satellite view or others if you desire.  If you’d like to add more layers or share your map with collaborators, you can do so in the same section.

2. Interacting with MyMaps’ Features

There are three main tools MyMaps provides that are useful for mapping out OSINT investigations: a marker tool (useful for plotting data), a line/shape tool (useful for plotting routes or designating building perimeters or areas of interest, and directions (useful for analyzing traffic, construction, road closures, etc.).

Here’s an example of how I used MyMaps to map out the high school walkouts in San Francisco/Palo Alto for gun reform earlier this year.

I created 4 layers.  “Demonstrations” shows the particular walkouts I was interested in.  “Construction” shows construction areas that currently affect traffic that could potentially worsen with additional foot traffic due to walk outs.  “Emergency Services” marks police and fire stations that would, without a doubt, be interacting with the demonstrations.  The closer the walk out to the police station, the more likely there would be police presence. Lastly, I created a layer for “Trouble Spots”.  These were areas that, based on other OSINT collection, I predicted would experience disruption based on demonstration activity.

3. Using MyMaps for OSINT

Now that you’re familiar with the interface, you can now start using MyMaps for OSINT.  MyMaps is a great tool for visualizing data you’ve found that is geotagged or for marking important landmarks or individuals addresses.  I’ve used MyMaps in the past to plot all registered drug, violent, and sex offenders in a town I used to live in based on an open source database of their addresses.  You can also use MyMaps to mark protest locations in a city or map out geotagged Tweets you’ve found.  All of this can be done for free and shared with ease.  You can also copy a map and reuse the data for a new project, shortening the time to create a product and share information.

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