Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mischievous Maps

Ok so this is not really that big a deal and something that I noticed a few weeks ago but is still a bit interesting... Observe the image below and see if you notice something odd...

The map of India is complete! Disputed territories are not shown. Why is this a big deal? Its not! Its just that before they were clearly marked... Now this is the 'Photos' app in iOS 4 which uses Google Maps... So I went to Google Maps India and looked up the subcontinent... This is what came up...

Full India... Entire Kashmir shown within India... Thats great then isn't it?! Well... till about the time you go to the US or the UK based Google Maps sites... And the following is what you see...

Google Maps US
Google Maps UK

Woops! Thats different! Thats what struck me as odd a few days ago... I had always seen the version of Maps on my phone and the web that showed the disputed areas as they exist in reality. The reason for that is that I was accessing the UK version being based in London and always presumed that Google Maps was uniform globally though hosted at various places and tweaked  for local 'flavour' sometimes. I guess I was wrong. I do remember there being protests or complaints about this a few years ago... but I didn't know that a 'different' version had been 'gifted' to us to keep us happy.

And Google is not the only one... Microsoft Bing duplicated the same effort to safeguard our flimsy egos...

Bing Maps India
Bing Maps US

The two places where I found uniformity was Yahoo! Maps (yes, such a thing exists) and Google Earth.

Yahoo! Maps
Google Earth on a computer
Google Earth on phone
Overall it is not out of the ordinary for something like this to happen. But I'm a bit vary of duplicity. This is NOT keeping things levelled globally (a challenging task no doubt but do-able in this case).  Did we really need an inaccurate (though official government line following) version of Maps? Is it right or fair that an Indian student should go online for reference and get a biased, un-realistic version? Are we not capable enough as a nation to accept ground realities and see them as they exist?

Interestingly, Google Pakistan does not have a local Maps version and uses the US version which shows them exactly what they want to see! :-p

[Update] Almost a month after this post, sections of the Indian media also caught on to the same thing (no... sadly NOT because of this post) and that aspect of the story has been covered here.

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