Google Maps: The Agnostic Cartographer?

A fascinating article in Washington Monthly on the role of Google Maps in geo-political disputes, including China vs. India (over Arunachal Pradesh), Cambodia vs. Thailand (over Preah Vihear Province), Israel vs. the Palestinians (over Kiryat Yam), and Iran vs. the Arab world over the Arab Gulf (or Persian Gulf). Here’s an extract:

Just five years since the release of Google Maps and Google Earth, the corporation may well be the world’s most important mapmaker. More than 600 million people around the world have downloaded Google Earth. As a testament to ambition, that number alone would be remarkable. But Google is also intent on upending our very notion of what a map is. Rather than produce one definitive map of the world, Google offers multiple interpretations of the earth’s geography. Sometimes, this takes the form of customized maps that cater to the beliefs of one nation or another. More often, though, Google is simply an agnostic cartographer—a peddler of “place browsers” that contain a multitude of views instead of univocal, authoritative, traditional maps. “We work to provide as much discoverable information as possible so that users can make their own judgments about geopolitical disputes,” writes Robert Boorstin, the director of Google’s public policy team.

Ironically, it is that very approach to mapping, one that is indecisive rather than domineering, that has embroiled Google in some of the globe’s hottest geopolitical conflicts. Thanks to the logic of its software and business interests, Google has inadvertently waded into disputes from Israel to Cambodia to Iran. It is said that every map is a political statement. But Google, by trying to subvert that truth, may just be intensifying the politics even more. Read more…

***UPDATE: Now Costa Rica and Nicaragua are at it.***

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