Rio's shantytowns shrink – on Google Maps, at least
Rio de Janeiro has complained for years that Google Maps overstates the size of the city's favelas or shantytowns. It's one of many diplomatic disputes worldwide over Google's online maps.
Rio de Janeiro
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While Rio’s tourism officials complained as early as 2009 that Google Maps exaggerated the size of the city’s slums, it wasn’t until the main daily newspaper O Globo took on the topic that Google actually responded.
The weekend article in O Globo – “Google Maps turns Rio into an agglomeration of favelas” – noted that the size of letters to indicate favelas (shantytowns) was often the same as those for the larger, wealthier neighborhoods they bordered. By Tuesday, the paper reported that Google had agreed to change its maps within the year.
It's one of many diplomatic disputes worldwide over Google's online maps, but the new agreement to prioritize Rio's wealthy neighborhoods and tourist points is opening the search engine to complaints that it is bowing to media and commercial pressure.
"From my perspective, what’s happening is Rio is asking the map to be remade so people coming in for the World Cup and Olympics won’t think it’s a city of slums," says Jason Farman, professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland and the author of “Mapping the Digital Empire,” which looks at the impacts of social media on global borders. "[They] want to minimize the poor and delineate them into a smaller space on the map."
Google Maps' many international flare-ups
This was not the first flare-up over Google’s online maps. In November, Costa Rica complained after Nicaraguan officials used Google Maps to claim disputed territory. Early last year, Cambodia said Google Earth was "devoid of truth and reality” in placing part of a contentious temple in Thailand. Google has attempted to placate India and China by placing the disputed region of Arunachal Pradesh in each nation – depending on where you log into Google.
And it’s not just developing nations, which often lack the resources to properly survey and demarcate their borders, that are crying foul. Earlier this year, the northwest German town of Emden complained that Google Maps gave its harbor to the Netherlands. In July, Spain complained that Google wrongly gave Morocco the Isla de Perejil.