Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Google Maps is not the Territory

You may rely on Google Maps for directions but it is important to remember that Google Maps does not portray a single objective reality. In fact the Google Map that you see depends on where you live. If you live in China then you will see a different version of the world than if you live in India. Use Google Maps in Ukraine and you will not see the same Google Map as someone in Russia.

As long as country borders exist then arguments and disputes over those borders will also exist. Because of this Google decides to show different borders in different countries. In order to conform to the different laws of different countries around the world Google has agreed to show different country borders to people in different countries.

The different versions of Google Maps which exist in different countries is perfectly illustrated in artist Simon Weckert's project Google Maps Borders. In Google Maps Borders Simon shows disputed borders around the world as they are shown by the Google Maps of different countries. For example look at the border between China and India in the two versions of Google Maps shown above. Google Maps in India (seen on the right) shows Arunachal Pradesh as being entirely within the borders of India. Google Maps in China (seen on the left) shows the disputed areas south of the McMahon Line as being in China and removes the label 'Arunachal Pradesh' entirely from the map.

Google Maps borders includes a number of embedded Google Maps from neighboring countries to show how a number of disputed borders around the world are portrayed differently in different countries. The dispute over the Crimean Peninsula, as shown in the maps of Ukraine and Russia, seems to have featured rather prominently in the news recently. Google Maps Borders also looks at the disputed borders between China and Russia, China and Taiwan, and China and Bhutan.

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