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Google Maps Errors Spark Territory Disputes

For a long time, Google Maps has been sparking controversy with the positions of borders. This came to a head in late 2009 with so many complaints that Google altered the map algorithm. From then on it has been showing borders in different positions depending on where your IP is based, and this seemed to solve most disputed border issues for Google. However, recently they have found themselves in a few more sticky situations.

Around the 5th November, Nicaraguan troops crossed the San Juan river, dividing Nicaragua from Costa Rica. They then proceeded to plant a Nicaraguan flag on Calero Island, Costa Rican territory in the middle of the river. The island lies in a region of the border that has been hotly disputed for many years, but has been recognised as part of Costa Rica since 1987. The disturbing part is that this invasion was in response to Google Maps placing it in Nicaragua. As soon as this was noticed, troops were sent. In response, Costa Rica sent security forces as they have no army of their own, and tensions have been high since.

Google have admitted their mistake in wrongly labelling the stretch but so far nothing has been done to fix the issue. The president of Costa Rica has even recently appealed to the UN Security Council to resolve the problem.

This issue reared it’s head again on the 10th November, when they wrongly identified the Ilsa de Perejil (Parsley Island). This is a small rocky island off the Moroccan coast, and was identified as belonging to the North African country. However, Spain claims sovereignty over the island after the latest dispute in 2002 when camped out Moroccan troops were ejected. The issue of the island threatened to ruin Spanish – Moroccan relations, until the USA was brought in to broker a deal between the two.

The worrying thing is that both of these disputes have been brought on by Google Maps, despite Google’s claims that ‘by no means should Google Maps be used as a reference to decide military actions between two countries’. The use of this as an excuse to invade disputed territories is a concern for both Google and for people of the world in general. Is this a worrying portent of what the future holds?


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