21 May 2015
Future Tense blog
First it was Edward Snowden in the White House. Then it was the Android robot peeing on the Apple logo. For weeks Google has been scrambling to clean up pranks caused by flaws in the open source component of Google Maps. But even now that the company has disabled its Map Maker feature, people are still discovering inappropriate changes.
Searching for the N-word in Maps brought users to the White House, with historically black college Howard University and the U.S. Capitol building as other results. Searching “f--k ni--ers” also brought up the Capitol and “ni--er university” also produced Howard.
Beyond the racial slur, “c--t house” was also redirecting to the White House, and “shit hole” was set to bring users to different places based on their locations. You get the idea.
Meanwhile, searching “why can’t we be friends” brings up American University Washington College of Law.
A Google spokesperson told the Verge in a statement that, “Some inappropriate results are surfacing in Google Maps that should not be, and we apologize for any offense this may have caused. ... Our teams are working to fix this issue quickly.”
The company does seem to have cleaned most of these problems up, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Internet users discover a few more pranks hiding in Maps. Crowdsourcing maps data is a great way to improve accuracy, but it’s also an open door for hate speech and other bigotry. Hopefully Google is working on improving its screening system for submissions.