written by: Daniel P. McGoldrick•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 12/4/2010
The things Google Maps got wrong lately have certainly started some trouble. While errors and anomalies on their online maps discussed below were amusing in some cases, border disputes based upon where Google drew virtual borders are certainly no laughing matter.
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Where in the World!?
The things Google Maps got wrong, sometimes the results were amusing, and other times the consequences have been rather tragic. Let’s take a look at what has happened when the Google Maps digital representation of our planet (and its own virtual political boundaries) didn’t exactly add up to the reality on the ground. First, in Forest Grove, Oregon (back in the fall of 2009) residents woke up to find that they weren't in Forest Grove at all, but in Glenwood instead: At least according to Google Maps. But rather than jump to the conclusion that the distant and tiny unincorporated farming community of Glenwood conquered their quaint college town of Forest Grove in the middle of the night (to plunder its spoils and annex its territory under the Glenwood banner), they soon found it was only an erroneous glitch on Google Maps. Incidentally, if you’re inclined to conspiracy theories, you might want to read about the Blacked Out Images on Google Earth.
Google Maps gets a lot of their information from third party information retailers that provide maps, such as TeleAtlas, so they rarely admit to being wrong themselves. They pawn it off on the third wheel that operates between us and them. Many citizens have found things in their neck of the woods that Google Maps has wrongly represented like dead end streets that Google Maps designates as through streets. When these citizens report these errors to Google, they're usually prompted to bring the matter up with the third party company to correct it. This leaves folks miffed when they don't see corrections to Google Maps and repeatedly have friends instructed to drive through "Road Closed" signs to get to their houses. And recently an entire city in Florida complained bitterly when they were no where to found on Google Maps, seemingly lost to some merciless virtual version of the Bermuda Triangle.
Although it has been subject to debate for centuries, residents of Nepal were upset to find Google Maps had listed the birthplace of Lord Guatama Buddha (Siddhartha Gautam) in India, when it has long been thought that he was born in Lumbini, Nepal; thanks to an archeological discovery found there in 1898. But it doesn’t help matters that Lumbini, Nepal was once in India before political boundaries were redrawn. Maybe we should let Google Maps off the hook on this one, and perhaps Buddha himself would find that people were largely missing the fundamentals points of his teachings if they’re caught up arguing about an ego-centered right to call him theirs.
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Serious Border Disputes
The following two border disputes have resulted in far more serious consequences. The government of Cambodia was outraged to find that Google Map's depiction of Cambodia's border with Thailand was wrong, clearly misrepresenting a border area that was resolved in 1962 by the world court. Since bloodshed has resulted in the past as a result of this contentious border, the Google Maps depiction could clearly only add fuel to the fire. Google has said it would look into the matter but didn't promise to move it.
Meanwhile in South America, the accuracy (or lack thereof) of Google's depiction of the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica caused some significant turmoil. A Nicaraguan General justified his raid of a disputed border area between his country and Costa Rica by pointing to what he found online using the handy Google Maps application. He raided first and pointed to the border Google Maps displayed the border after, thinking he found a loop hole in a border that was generally agreed upon before Google was a glint in anyone’s eye.
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A Journey fit only for a Modern Day Ulysses
Lastly, it’s good to see the folks at Google have a good sense of humor about things. So I wouldn’t necessarily call this final notable mention wrong, but significantly lacking in the realm of possible. When you use the Google Maps “Get Directions" feature to find your way from China (Start) to Japan (Finish), you obviously get a long list of directions. As you can see from the Google Maps screen shot here, Step 43 instructs you to “Jet Ski across the Pacific Ocean." That’s s 768 kilometer jaunt straddled on your water hog. Well played in that regard Google.