Google’s Map “Accuracy” issues

There was another story about Google exacerbating international incidents with its map labeling, “sowing discord and stoking up strife” as it displays geographic data for this world.  Last year it was in Central America, and the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.  Now it’s an area between the Netherlands and Germany.

One of the things I find interesting about this is the assumption that Google is doing this deliberately.  Really?  I find that idea extremely unlikely.  At a recent geography conference, a South Korean spoke passionately about his Sisyphean task of having the “East Sea” be the name of the body of water between Korea and Japan (rather than the “Sea of Japan”), an effort documented in blogs like this one.  During those conversations I learned about the person/people at Google who are in charge of receiving the hundreds/thousands of map “correction” requests.  Not the requests for approval of repositioning things, but the requests/demands for relabeling.

After having been student and scholar of geography and map-making for 20  years now, I appreciate the range of motivations and factors that contribute to a map being the way it is.  There are certainly cases of deliberate manipulations for political agendas, to coerce or to pacify.  But many maps have features located and labeled where they do for simple human error and ignorance, for relying on a long legacy of other “incorrect” sources for the info that no one had previously noticed or cared about or complained about.  Google deliberately trying to create an international incident between Germany and the Netherlands by having someone place a provocative label or misrepresent the legal border? Don’t we have other conspiracy theories we could worry about more?   Yes, Google Maps should consider using some “shading” perhaps to indicate uncertain areas. Google Maps has been out for 6 yrs now, and though I expect they employ cartographers and geographers in the effort, the likelihood that they happen to be consistently aware of all cases of disputed territories, whether they’re ambiguous or not, is unlikely.  It’s just sloppy geography work, and no map is neutral, but I don’t think it’s Google changing its “Do No Evil” motto.

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