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Nicaragua Raids Costa Rica, Blames Google Maps 285

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-was-just-following-my-gps dept.
Garabito writes "An error on Google Maps has caused an international conflict in Central America. A Nicaraguan military commander, relying on Google Maps, moved troops into an area near San Juan Lake along the border between his country and Costa Rica (Google translation of Spanish original). The troops are accused of setting up camp there, taking down a Costa Rican flag and raising the Nicaraguan flag, doing work to clean up a nearby river, and dumping the sediment in Costa Rican territory."
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Nicaragua Raids Costa Rica, Blames Google Maps

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  • A simple resolution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Palestrina (715471) * on Friday November 05, 2010 @07:55AM (#34134666) Homepage
    Why not just change the real borders to match what Google Maps says?

    There is precedent for this. For example, ISO approved a standard that redefined leap year calculations to match a bug in Microsoft Excel [robweir.com].

  • Re:Yeah... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Toe, The (545098) on Friday November 05, 2010 @08:12AM (#34134828)

    100 miles. When I saw it, I reported it to Google using right-click->"Report a Problem." And wouldn't you know... now that I look, it is no longer there.

  • by TDyl (862130) on Friday November 05, 2010 @08:28AM (#34134968)

    The real worrying thing is...why would ANY military agency even be looking at Google Maps in the first place. Then again this isn't the first time this has happened. The US military forces used tourist maps to plan the invasion of the island of Grenada in 1983. Granted, there was very little cartography of the island available... but to resort to tourist maps?

    Didn't that lead to a hospital being targeted and destroyed?

  • Re:Yeah... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SJ2000 (1128057) on Friday November 05, 2010 @09:00AM (#34135354) Homepage
    Cross Border incidents happen to the best of people. Australia during East Timor conflict...

    The first incident was apparently due to the local Indonesian authorities persisting in the use of 1933 Dutch maps and the Australians using more recent Indonesian maps. The Dutch map indicated that the Mota Bicu river formed the border. However, the 1992 Indonesian map used by the Australians showed the border as being 500 metres to the west of that position. Apparently, the Indonesian map reflects a post-1975 decision to make the border a fixed provincial border not dependent on the river as a landmark, with the result that as the river changed course over time and as the villagers moved with it, the village of Motaain would shift its location from East to West Timor and vice versa....

    http://www.icrc.org/web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/html/57JQZ2 [icrc.org]

  • Re:Yeah... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday November 05, 2010 @09:11AM (#34135460) Journal
    Given that Maps/Earth is a free service, and Google isn't exactly a charity, it would actually not at all surprise me if the quality of Google's offerings for a given area is strongly correlated to that area's level of wealth, IT development, and existing national mapping services and/or 3rd party information providers.

    Consider, most of what Google does, it does either as an experiment/long term investment, or as part of its core ad-selling business. Now, their mapping services have been around for a while, and don't seem to be an experiment(and the concept of geographically localized advertising is obviously attractive), so it seems very likely that they are ancillary to the core business.

    Consider: Where are ads most valuable, per impression, and consumer data/metrics most valuable? In wealthy, populous, areas with good internet penetration and lots of electronic commerce.

    Where is good mapping data cheapest: Where some existing national, regional, and/or local mapping/planning authority exists, and has already collected decent records in a standardish format, at public expense and available for no or nominal money.

    Therefore, you would strongly expect Google to have the best starting data in relatively wealthy, stable, well-governed areas, and have the greatest incentive to do the labor-intensive data cleaning process of sending out GPS-carrying surveyors and streetview cars and things in dense, wealthy areas. The further from either of those you go, the more likely it is that Google's "data" are whatever satellite or aerial photos they managed to pick up cheaply and georectify well enough that there aren't visually obvious gaps and tears. Because modern sensors are good, such data are actually likely to be perfectly OK for things like physical geography lessons; but there isn't actually a big black line painted along most national borders, satellites aren't going to see that. And, given that this incident occurred in what sounds like a relatively sparsely populated Latin American border region, I'm guessing that the place isn't crawling with streetview cars...

    If what you care about are things like national borders, military installations/posts, and geographic features where some kind of army engineering corps is doing work, the national mapping service is probably actually the place to go. Unfortunately, they are probably not set up with a very nice user interface. Paper maps or some ghastly 80's GIS frontend, usable after a few months of specialized training, are a definite possibility. Google, on the other hand, has virtually no incentive to care about such things(at least in their free civilian offering, I don't know if they have a government/intelligence version); but has a decent interface, and produces results with a lovely air of apparent accuracy most of the time.

    Consider some history: During British colonial rule(first via East India company, later direct) The Great Trigonometric Survey (1802-early 20th century) produced some quite accurate maps of the entire subcontinent, and some pretty hostile terrain, using nothing more than hand tools, dead trees, and pre-computer math. Surveying, like civil engineering, is nontrivial; but you can actually do an excellent job with quite primitive tools. Satellites and GPS enabled everything sure makes the job easier, and computers sure make the interface nicer; but there is nothing except disorganization stopping even a country with early 19th century technology from producing excellent maps.
  • Re:Yeah... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Schadrach (1042952) on Friday November 05, 2010 @09:33AM (#34135756)

    Spending cuts from wherever it's not absolutely necessary (and I hate to say this, but defense has a significant bit of fat to trim -- I'm not saying anything extreme and ridiculous like that we don't need a military, or our troops don't need body armor or something, just that we go to excess in the name of funneling money into defense contractors currently).

    Make all the "welfare" programs into "workfare" -- there's always some public work somewhere we can throw people at, and if all else fails let smaller governments (as in local) as well as nonpolitical nonprofits (churches, charities, and the like) request laborers from the pool; the whole point being to make them work for their living, even if their on the government dole. Specifically we don't want it to be nice work (we want people to prefer having a "legitimate" job), we want it to be a "I have no other choice, but at least picking litter off the interstate is better than going hungry."

    No tax cuts, at least not for a while. Cutting expenses doesn't help reduce debt if you also cut revenue. Devise a specific plan for debt reduction, and do not reduce taxes until we've got it back under control.

    Require a budget be balanced on average. Running a deficit during a recession helps recovery, but it's only a good endeavor if you then pay down the deficit once the economy has recovered. Persistent debt is not desirable in any way.

  • Re:Yeah... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Friday November 05, 2010 @09:59AM (#34136126) Journal

    Every president, regardless of party, gets their war. It is in the contract I think.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 05, 2010 @10:31AM (#34136596)

    The recently retired US Navy F14 Tomcat was designed pre-GPS. Those pilots and RIOs stuck with the unmodified aircraft carried commercial GPSs. Same can probably be said for all aircraft designed before 1985?, 1990?, and never retrofitted. The Navy is probably a little sloppier in this respect than the Air Force or Army. From what I saw, the philosophy was: You got 2 engines, 3 tires, and weapons? Fly the mission. Don't worry 'bout them little 'lectronicy things.

  • Re:Yeah... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mdarksbane (587589) on Friday November 05, 2010 @10:36AM (#34136672)

    See, the fun thing about these enforced work program ideas is that they only work if no one is doing the job already. That "public work somewhere we can throw people at" is currently done by salaried government employees (who are probably unionized) and who will heartily object to being replaced by people who were too lazy to sign up for that job under their own free will.

  • Re:Yeah... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 05, 2010 @11:51AM (#34138028)

    That certainly seems true. Mainly because the US appears to require war in order to function properly. If you're not destroying some foreign company, you're declaring silly things like "War on Drugs".

  • Re:Yeah... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by budgenator (254554) on Friday November 05, 2010 @12:11PM (#34138380) Journal

    A nation has three pillars of influence, diplomatic, economic and military; It used to be the the real purpose of War was to insure that countries would be preferentially amenable to the other two pillars of influence. Unfortunately the world is getting increasingly stupid and stubborn and unresponsive to diplomatic and economic pressure, and to be entirely honest the "pointless fucking wars the US has been waging for 40 years" have mostly been UN wars where the US and Great Britain have been stuck doing the heavy lifting and the 40 years would be more like 50 or 60 now.

  • Re:Yeah... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Friday November 05, 2010 @01:48PM (#34139928)

    Not everything, they started a COTS program either right before or right after 9/11. There was a report right after the Invasion of Iraq was over by the Marine Corps which talked about things Marines bought themselves and brought for the war and which of those things the Marine Corps should buy outright off the shelf. Down to "we shouldn't buy Camelbak water packs because civilian models update faster so we should just do a reimbursement if Marines want newer models, or buy them in smaller lots."

    I wish I had it here to link to, but its on a laptop at home.

  • Re:Yeah... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fishbowl (7759) on Friday November 05, 2010 @03:00PM (#34140970)

    When we go to war, one overriding and fundamental change should occur:

    All industrial production, all natural resource extraction and development, and all labor in this country shall be devoted 100% to the war effort for its duration.

    I'm not saying that the government should take over all means of production, but I am saying that no military contractor should be allowed to take any kind of profit beyond operating costs for the duration. They can be paid in bonds that are redeemable at the end of the war, but they certainly should not profit. Anyone who is engaged in any endeavor that is not directly part of the war effort should find themselves very unpopular for doing so.

    If this sounds extreme, that's because it is. It should be the barrier that the government faces when it chooses to go to war, and it would provide the motivation for the entire country to end that war, and no profit motive for anyone at all for there to be any interest in artificially prolonging the war.

    I find it disgusting that there is a "defense industry" that is based on greed, instead of a reluctant one that is based on desperate need.

    From the instant we go to war, no person should be engaged in *anything* except the war effort, until that war is over. All commodities should be rationed. All industrial profits should be bonded for the war effort. And every able bodied man and woman should make it his or her personal duty to contribute.

    If we have an issue that doesn't persuade the whole country to be willing to make that sacrifice, we don't have an issue worth going to war over.

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