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.
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But this is almost certainly the first time that a woman’s stymied search for a retail store set off a chain of events rippling all the way to the California headquarters of the world’s largest Internet search engine.Skip to next paragraph
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“We decided to do the piece after the wife of an editor here in the office had made a prosaic search in Google – to locate some commercial establishment – from home [and] became surprised with the high number of favelas indicated, even the majority unfamiliar ones,” Laura Antunes, who wrote the story, told the Monitor in an e-mail. “She commented with her husband... [and] from this case the topic came out."
Maps and social values
Maps reveal much about social values, says Mr. Farman.
"Maps are not just about accuracy, they're always about choices we make as human beings to represent our spaces," he says. "What prompted [Google's decision to on Rio mapping] is issues that center around consumerism and commerce and the news media."
"The power in being able to decide, and to side with certain government entities, it kind of puts Google on par with our previous understanding of the role that nations played," says Farman. "The ways that we think about what and who is powerful in the world needs to change."
But tourism operators here say that visitors – especially foreigners – are keen on seeing the favelas.
“Tourists like it. They always come to ask for this,” João Luiz says as he points to his favela tourism sign, next to another offering one to visit Rio’s samba stadium, Sugarloaf Mountain, and botanical gardens.
“You know which tourist does this [favela] tour more? The foreigners, not the Brazilians,” he adds.
Sergio Defrayer and Alessandro Adão are government-employed tourist guides at the base of the favela Dona Marta, which is touted as a model “pacified” community freed from drug traffickers by a new policing program. They encourage tourists to visit the favela’s plaza, which has a mural and statue of Michael Jackson to commemorate a video he filmed there.
Google “needs to show everything [to promote tourism], not just favelas but also the Zona Sul [asphalt neighborhoods],” says Mr. Adão.
Lounging at the top of the Dona Marta hill in the evening, Edmaldo Faria says it’s fine by him if favelas like his are diminished on Google. The current map has “a positive and a negative side [since] it serves as a notice for a tourist” to not accidentally happen upon one, he says.
“There’s going to be complaints, surely,” when Google changes it, he adds. “You can’t please everybody.”
(With additional reporting by Stephen Kurczy in Boston.)