As I blogged about last year in relation to the mysterious town of Argleton, Lancashire, England, there are known errors in Google Maps. A recent error is now reported to have caused an international incident between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
The whole episode is a bit murky, so bear with me.
According to news reports like this one from MSNBC, Eden Pastora, a former and shall we say colorful Nicaraguan guerrilla leader allegedly led an incursion into Costa Rican territory on the 1st of November. The territory in question, Isla Calero, has been part of a 160-year border dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan troops allegedly took down a Costa Rican flag on the island and replaced it with a Nicaraguan flag.
Costa Rica immediately demanded the Nicaraguan troops withdraw. BTW, Costa Rica has no army.
MSNBC reported that Nicaragua initially said the incursion was an accident due to a "bug" in Google maps that Mr. Pastora had used.
However, Mr. Pastora, who apparently has not left the island, says that he wasn't relying on Google maps at all, but was using a map associated with an 1858 treaty between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, reports the Toronto-based The Star. It is also unclear if Mr. Pastora was operating on his own or under orders of the Nicaraguan government.
The Organization of American States (OAS), the UN Security Council and the U.S. Department of State have gotten involved in trying to sort out the mess. You can go to the OAS web site for more details of what the organization is trying to do diplomatically.
Google, after consultation with the US State Department, said that indeed it had made an error, and gave a long explanation trying to rationalize it.
Google apologized to everyone involved and subsequently made changes to its map of the disputed territory. Google also said, in a bit of an understatement that:
"By no means should they be used as a reference to decide military actions between two countries."
However, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Samuel Santosreportedly has told Google that its map was "absolutely correct" and shouldn't be changed.
With no one being happy, expect this incident to drag on for quite some time.
In related Google Map news, there was report last week that a Google app to help US voters find their correct polling station had a glitch that sent voters to the wrong polling station in at least 12 states.
And for most of last September, the city of Sunrise, Florida didn't exist in Google maps. According to this AOLnews story, it was the third time since August 2009 that Sunrise, with a population of 90,000, had vanished from Google maps.
The AOL story also points out that Google says that it makes some 10,000 corrections or additions to its Google Map data an hour.
Best to keep that in mind the next time you use Google Maps.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.