“On Dec. 24, 1955, a call was made to the Continental Air Defense Command,” and little girl asked if somebody at the Colorado Springs, Colorado installation could tell her where Santa Claus was. That call, describes the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), started a long tradition of tracking Santa Claus—receiving calls from children everywhere, and reporting Santa’s flight status over the phone—but now Google is watching too, and they’ve built a website.
Their site, Google Santa Tracker, was developed in response to a recent public outcry against a NORAD-Microsoft partnership that produced the government’s official “NORAD Tracks Santa” website.
Microsoft’s design was recently criticized by children’s advocacy groups because it displays a video that shows Santa Claus and his reindeer being escorted on his flight by two fighter jets.
The Pentagon is “completely out of line,” says Allen Kanner, a child psychologist and co-founder of Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.
“Children associate Santa with gifts and fun and everything else that is positive about Christmas. They are associating this with the military in children’s minds.”
The Navy has a different opinion. Captain Jeff Davis says, “We wanted to let folks know that, hey, this is a NORAD video, and we’re the military and this is our mission.”
In an interview with the Boston Globe Davis concluded, “It’s still cutesy since it’s for kids, but we don’t want people to lose sight of our true mission.”
Amy Hagopian, professor of public health at the University of Washington, responded to the Davis’ statements in her comments to the Globe.
“I think people are quite aware of the military’s true mission. If the military wants to keep its ranks stocked, it needs to appeal to children. The military knows it can’t appeal to adults to volunteer. It is like the ad industry.”
Regardless of a parent’s views on the possible implications of the video, the NORAD tracking website was the only available option to follow Santa Claus’s path around the globe—until now. As it turns out, Google has started watching as well.
Google’s December post on googlebog.blogspot.com announced that, “After 11 months soaking up the sun in the tropics, Santa and his elves are back at the North Pole getting ready for Christmas Eve.”
Google’s site seems to avoid the recent controversy altogether, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capitalizing on an opportunity to compete with Microsoft once again.
Meanwhile, a team of Google engineers are working hard to track Santa’s sleigh with the most advanced maps and holiday technology available. On December 24, grab some cookies and apple cider and settle down in front of your computer, phone or TV to follow the big guy across the globe with our Santa Tracker. See where Santa’s going, the number of presents he’s delivered, and what he’s thinking throughout the evening.
Google offers visitors the opportunity to play games in Santa Claus’s Village while awaiting the transmission of his departure, flight, and whereabouts on Christmas Eve.
Microsoft’s Santa website drew over 22 million views from visitors last year and generated 114,000 phone calls that were fielded by over a thousand volunteers. That traffic alone suggests that NORAD’s new site is quite popular, but whether the recent criticism of their marketing will have a toll on this year’s visits is yet to be seen.
Whichever website your family decides to get their Santa Claus Tracking information this year, Santa’s marketing elves are going to have to be careful. If they don’t want travel plans leaked, or if they want to keep the contents of Santa’s bag from hitting everybody’s inboxes before the big day, they’ll have to keep their cards close to their chests.
Because now Google is watching too.
By Matt Darjany