Google Maps tries to trace the globe for more than one billion users worldwide. But it is not so simple when those people do not agree on where the lines should be drawn. Then, the search giant shows political boundaries differently depending on where the viewer is, according to a report published Friday by The Washington Post.
For example, take Kashmir, the region for which India and Pakistan have fought for more than 70 years. Map readers in Pakistan and elsewhere see the borders drawn as a dotted line, indicating a dispute. But in India, people see a solid line that shows it as part of India, the report says. Other tags are also different. The body of water that separates Japan and South Korea is widely shown as the Sea of Japan. But in South Korea, it is the East Sea.
The discrepancies give an idea of how Google and other Silicon Valley giants operate when they face political sensitivities related to world governments. The challenge of the regions in dispute is not a new problem: the creators of printed maps also have to deal with it, but the speed and connection of the software can make the difference seem more jarring.
While working on those decisions, Google said it works with organizations such as the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN), and analyzes treaties and armistices. The company acknowledged that it differs from local governments when it comes to borders.
"We remain neutral on issues of disputed regions and borders, and do our best to objectively show the dispute on our maps using a dashed gray border line," said Ethan Russell, Director of Product Management at Google Maps, in a release. "In countries where we have local versions of Google Maps, we follow local legislation when we show names and borders."
For more sensitive border decisions, Google relies on a special team of employees called the "team of disputed regions," the Post said.
Given the scale of Google Maps, which turned 15 last week, the decisions are not trivial. In December, Google announced that Maps had captured more than 10 million miles of Street View images. The distance, Google said, would be equivalent to circling the Earth more than 400 times. The company also said that Google Earth, the search giant's air mapping service, has a total of 36 million square miles of satellite images so people can navigate. With that collection, Google has traced the parts of the world where 98% of people live.