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Google Maps error leads to invasion

24 November, 2010
By Allison Orr

An error on Google maps appears to have been responsible for recent military action in South America.

Last week Nicaraguan troops crossed the border into Costa Rica, took down their flag and raised the Nicaraguan flag.  This accidental invasion, according to commander Eden Pastora, was instigated due to a “bug in Google”, since Google maps mistakenly showed the territory as belonging to Nicaragua. The Organisation of American States and the UN Security Council have now been called in to mediate the dispute.

Google has admitted to its mistake, stating in the Google Maps blog – Lat Long Blog -  that there was an error in the border “by up to 2.7 kilometres”.  The US Department of State has now provided a corrected version and Google has updated the map.

Says Charlie Hale, geopolicy analyst at Google, “Cartography is a complex undertaking and borders are always changing”.  The Lat-long blog then gives a brief history of the dispute over this particular border going back to the nineteenth century.

This is not the first time Google Maps has published incorrect maps.  In February this year Cambodia complained that Google’s representation of the border between Cambodia and Thailand was “devoid of truth and reality”.  This is also a border area that is hotly contested.

Disputed borders are difficult to show on online maps, which may not be of high resolution.  They are generally marked by Google with a dotted line or a red line, or may be shown as different versions in different countries.   According to CNN, Google Maps China and Google Maps India show different versions of the border between those countries because national laws require then to appear a certain way in each country.

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