Google Nearly Starts a War. Seriously.

By Jenny Schlesinger

Nov 11, 2010 12:43pm

ABC News' Kirit Radia reports:  Errors by Google Maps have in the past week re-ignited a territorial dispute in North Africa and nearly caused a war in Central America.  In the latter instance, last week Nicaraguan forces crossed a disputed border and raised their flag in territory that was long considered part of Costa Rica after the military commander on the scene looked up the area on Google Maps to determine how far he could deploy his troops.  Costa Rica has responded with heavily armed police (the country abolished its army decades ago) and its president has called the move an invasion. Nicaragua so far has refused to withdraw its soldiers.  The Organization of American States has been called in to mediate and later today the regional body will consider a proposed solution whereby Nicaragua removes its forces and the two sides sit down to map out the border. Both sides have so far rejected the plan.  In a separate incident this week, Google Maps mistakenly attributed to Morocco a tiny island (more of a large rock) a few hundred yards off its coast and then changed it, again erroneously, to Spain. The problem is the uninhabited island (save for a few goats), which Spain calls Isla de Perejil (“Parsley Island”) and Morocco calls Leila (“Night”), has been a disputed territory for years and the two countries nearly fought over it in 2002. Google has acknowledged its errors and promised to fix them, pledging to remain neutral in the Morocco/Spain dispute and fix the border line in the Nicaragua/Costa Rica one.  Google can take some comfort in knowing that it isn’t the only one to make such mistakes. In 2008, a typo by the US Board of Geographic Names, the official body under the US Interior Department that lists the names and affiliations of locations around the world, mistakenly listed a string of islands claimed by both Japan and South Korea as “undesignated sovereignty” instead of belonging to South Korea, which is longstanding US policy. The error carried much more weight as it came from a US government entity and took many days of diplomatic massaging to correct.  

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