Google Maps War

Did Google start a war?

In November of 2010, Nicaraguan officials started a construction project on a piece of land that was culturally accepted to belong to Costa Rica. Officials from Nicaragua justified this move through the use of Google Maps- which claimed that the land belonged to Nicaragua. The ownership of this area, which only spans a few square miles, has been disputed for hundreds of years (For more information, look up the  Cañas-Jerez Treaty of 1858 and the arbitration of the dispute by President Grover Cleveland in 1888).The countries and Google debated the correct border for a few days; in the meantime, Nicaraguan troops occupied the space. While Google didn’t start a war, it played a role in perpetuating tensions between the two countries.

borderlines-costa-blog427 (1)In our age of information, there is a demand for access to information. As Google has increased in popularity and become the “go to” source for information of all sorts, what authority does the organization have? The purpose of maps is to give the user a clear idea about a location: names, landscape, boundaries. Many of these items that are displayed on maps are conflicted and complex zones that cannot be easily defined. Google Map’s mission is, “to represent the ‘ground truth’ as accurately and neutrally.” In some ways, Google wants to present information to allow users to make their own decision, “That can mean providing multiple claim lines (e.g. the Syrian and Israeli lines in the Golan Heights), multiple names (e.g. two names separated by a slash: ‘Londonderry/Derry’), or clickable political annotations with short descriptions of the issues,” (For more information, check out this statement from Google’s Charlie Hales).

Side Note: The tech quiz classified me as a “Digital Collaborator”

If you are a Digital Collaborator, you use information technology to work with and share your creations with others. You are enthusiastic about how ICTs help you connect with others and confident in your ability to manage digital devices and information. For you, the digital commons can be a camp, a lab, or a theater group – places to gather with others to develop something new.

6 comments on “Google Maps War

  1. I find this instance very interesting, and is striking that a government would look to google maps to justify a move on a stretch of land as controversial as this. I really don’t want to harp on Google, but what do you want them to do, say that the area is neutral? That would just publicly display all the controversial areas on earth, which I think brings more attention to them than the world needs. I do see that it may be more “politically correct” to say that the area is neutral, but regular google maps users might find that weird, like that Google doesn’t have satellites there or something. And god forbid that Google looks like it doesn’t have the answer to everything. I just think that it is ridiculous that the Nigerian government would justify it by referencing Google Maps. Ultimately, it is a political obligation to figure out who owns the land, not a matter of how Google represents that area.

    • Yes, it is a political obligation and process. But, all is fair in love and war? In other words, when you are trying to find legitimacy, and you have something with as much apparent legitimacy as Google on your side, why not claim it?

  2. I am wondering if it is weird to have a private concern, Google, as the arbiter of geographic information. Is this a new trend?

    Many of the European conquerers/explorers relied on private maps, maps made by cartographers trying to make money (I think, relying on memory here). Maybe national governments as the arbiters of geographic information is an aberation, historically, and not the norm.

  3. Pingback: Blog Council on Nerd Alert | Let's Get Ethical

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