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More Than A Map

Jul 12, 2010

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Barrie Hardymon

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Google Maps: awesome, comprehensive, and... highly political? †I don't know why I never thought of this before, but of course: every time you name a territory, or draw its boundaries, you run the risk of wading into some of the most virulent conflicts in the world. †Call it Israel, call it Tibet, you name it — the mapmaker is a politician, as the Washington Monthly points out†in this fascinating article.

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.

Read further to find out what happened when Google relabeled an Indian border state, Chinese...

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