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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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  • Well, I guess it was only a matter of time before stuff like this happened. ;P

    • Re:Yeah... (Score:5, Informative)

      by jgagnon (1663075) on Friday November 05, 2010 @07:51AM (#34134618)

      A classic case of misinformation being worse than no information. However, Google does have a disclaimer on the service about possible errors.

      It shouldn't, but it amazes me how a military force from one country can take action based on information from a free service offered by a company in another country. It boggles the mind.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by The Raven (30575)

        Imagine the resources of a nation like Nicaragua, then imagine the quality of their IT infrastructure... does it really surprise you that much that Google has a better and usually more accurate mapping service than they can get from their government?

        • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by boristdog (133725)

        but it amazes me how a military force from one country can take action based on information from a free service offered by a company in another country.

        Something tells me you haven't traveled to many 3rd world countries. Google has probably dodeca-tupled the intelligence gathering capacity of most 3rd world countries.

      • Re:Yeah... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by hosecoat (877680) on Friday November 05, 2010 @08:19AM (#34134880) Homepage
        "taking down a Costa Rican flag", should have been another big clue
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Hoi Polloi (522990)

          I'd mod this insightful. You'd think that if they were properly trained soldiers they would have the wherewithall to check a real map once they saw a Costa Rican flag. That would've set off all sorts of bells for me. Not sure what they were doing depending on Google Maps in the first place though.

          The fact that they took the Costa Rican flag down and replaced it with their own though makes me wonder if this was a "mistake". Sounds like they raised a middle finger along with their flag.

          • Map & Compass (Score:4, Informative)

            by Infonaut (96956) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Friday November 05, 2010 @10:58AM (#34137094) Homepage Journal

            I concur. This wasn't a mistake. Map & compass has worked well for a long, long time. Soldiers were able to navigate the jungles long before the arrival of GPS, Google Maps, and checkin apps. In a country like Nicaragua that has a small military budget, land navigation training has to be part of the core training, at least for NCOs, and certainly for officers. I can't think of a single nation that has done away with land nav training; doing so would be like forgoing marksmanship training.

            The only other explanation is that the guy in charge of the mission was a complete incompetent, and his subordinates either weren't paying attention or didn't have the balls to tell him he was fucking up.

      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by poetmatt (793785)

        It's beyond hilarity that they even mention google. This shows you how far people go to aim at the easy target.

        Instead of "maybe we should have had better intel" it's "this is because google maps is inaccurate".

      • 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]

      • by SirGarlon (845873)

        It shouldn't, but it amazes me how a military force from one country can take action based on information from a free service offered by a company in another country. It boggles the mind.

        It's possible that you're mistaking a pretext for the actual cause of the "mistake."

      • A classic case of misinformation being worse than no information. However, Google does have a disclaimer on the service about possible errors.

        Funny how the first thing that pops into some people's minds is the disclaimers, and possible lawsuits.

        Regardless of the disclaimer - I do not think that any country would sue Google for misinformation which lead to a war. The claim would be astronomical... and unrealistic. :-)
        It would be hilarious (and stupid) if a foreign company with a free service would be held accountable for military actions.

        It shouldn't, but it amazes me how a military force from one country can take action based on information from a free service offered by a company in another country. It boggles the mind.

        Typically, these countries have little budget for their military. And military commanders may say that Google m

    • Re:Yeah... (Score:4, Funny)

      by Toe, The (545098) on Friday November 05, 2010 @07:52AM (#34134634)

      Indeed. I almost rode my bike to a seemingly nearby park I had never explored. Then I double-checked it on the park authority's site and found it was over 100 miles away from where the Google map showed it.

      So I 100% feel what this Nicaraguan commander felt. I mean; out situations were basically identical.

      • 100km???
        any chance of a reference, I'd like to compare it with some other mapping services.

        I haven't played with the GPS aspect of it but the maps around my area seem pretty close to the reality.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Toe, The (545098)

          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.

          • The place that I work has this problem a lot (though on a lesser scale). The location of a number of businesses are jumbled around the area, and a good number of them wind up near us. We constantly get people coming in, and asking us for directions. I've reported the problem to Google a few times, but that most likely only helps them while all the GPS devices still have the incorrect information.

    • Re:Yeah... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday November 05, 2010 @08:05AM (#34134754) Journal
      My understanding is that minor-but-with-alarming-possibilities-of-escalation operational cartography fuckups have been occurring since approximately the invention of boundary stones, well back in the BCs...

      The main amusement here is that A)Google gets mentioned by name and B)the ease of use of a mass-market civilian product leads a military user(who presumably has access to better information, from some sort of national mapping/geospatial intelligence/GIS wonk service; but probably with a lousier interface) to rely on it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by LWATCDR (28044)

        Actually I doubt that do have better information than Google does. Not that many nations have the resources to spend on that type of tool that the US, NATO, Russia, China, Japan, Brazil, and so on do.
        A lot of nations will get that type of Data from the US or Russia depending on who they are friends with at the time.
        Heck for a long time U2 pilots where buying handheld GPS units because the U2 was still waiting for it's official upgrade. Later the units bought them as a COTS rescue aid but used them for navig

        • Not to mention that anything that get officially procured for the military has to go through a prolonged design and approval process, has to withstand extreme temperatures and weather, all that.

          Which in practice means that you will be late to getting all of the cool consumer-style tech gadgets, and the ones you get will be slower. Which can make sense... you don't want a consumer product failing in the middle of your engagement because some sand got into it or it doesn't work in the snow -- but it also mean

        • by delinear (991444)

          Actually I doubt that do have better information than Google does. Not that many nations have the resources to spend on that type of tool that the US, NATO, Russia, China, Japan, Brazil, and so on do.

          This is not about having some kind of advanced mapping and GPS capabilities, it's about having a note about where the borders of your own country are and someone who can read a bearing. I would have thought they'd have at least that. At the point when their military were taking down neighbouring nation flags and dumping waste over the border it might have been a good idea to ask HQ to check that their co-ordinates were the right side of the big red line drawn around the map on the General's wall. I smell a

    • Re:Yeah... (Score:5, Funny)

      by dnahelicase (1594971) on Friday November 05, 2010 @08:13AM (#34134836)
      So that's why the Google EULA says "Not responsible for inadvertent war." I never understood that before...
  • by iONiUM (530420) on Friday November 05, 2010 @07:47AM (#34134578) Homepage Journal

    This is how google takes over the world! Soon there will be a very small dot somewhere in google maps called "googleland", and then over time the borders will expand. But nobody will question it, because it must be right.

    • there's more land, still.

      (after the 'jump')

    • That little place there, "Ottisburg"? That's mine.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by jgreco (1542031)

        Otis didn't have the nuts to say anything so bold.

        Lex: Otisburg .. Otisburg?
        Otis: Miss Tessmacher, she's got her own place.
        Lex: Otisburg??
        Otis: It's a little bitty place...
        Lex: Otisburg?!?!?
        Otis: Okay, I'll just wipe it off, that's all. It's just a little town.

    • by Culture20 (968837) on Friday November 05, 2010 @08:11AM (#34134812)

      This is how google takes over the world! Soon there will be a very small dot somewhere in google maps called "googleland", and then over time the borders will expand. But nobody will question it, because it must be right.

      translate.google.com says that German for "Googleland" is Liechtenstein. Start looking! If you find it, tell everyone you know!

    • by digitig (1056110)
      And it will be Alliance v. Horde all over again when it overlaps Bingland.
      • by MBGMorden (803437)

        I thing Google vs Bing would be more like the Burning Legion vs the Defias Gang than Alliance vs Horde.

  • Just get Google Maps to incorrectly show the border, right?

    Whatever did we do in the days before Google Maps? Didn't the military used to use paper maps that were actually vetted and verified?

    • by Arimus (198136)

      They used paper maps... as for the v&v part, well depended on who was doing the v&v, after all Germany probably had paper maps with Poland hastily scribbled over...
       

    • 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?
      • by robot256 (1635039)
        It's not like Nicaragua is known for having the most technologically advanced military in the world, and these guys were not on a combat mission...maybe it was just a budget-cutting measure?
      • What's wrong with resorting to better intelligence than you have in any case? That sounds innovative to me. "We don't know what the fuck we're doing" "Well the kiosks there hand out maps like candy, go there with a camera and a hawaiian shirt and flip flops and buy one for 25 cents. Hell, buy 6."
        • Most tourist maps aren't even good at their intended purpose. They are almost never drawn to scale and lack any meaningful detail.
          • So, vaguely knowing where you're going, versus "well we have an idea that somewhere in this country is some target. I think it's here, about, in the middle! Just start wandering around, I dunno about any landmarks but you'll find it eventually. Ask some of the locals, they might know."
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by TDyl (862130)

        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?

      • by TheLink (130905)
        To get an excuse for doing something they know is wrong?

        There was a Costa Rican flag there... So I don't buy the bullshit that it's "Google Maps".
      • by c6gunner (950153)

        The real worrying thing is...why would ANY military agency even be looking at Google Maps in the first place.

        Well, considering that the entire population of Nicaragua is about 3/4 the size of New York City, I'm guessing that their military intelligence branch probably consists of three guys with a protractor and a compass, funded by the tip-jar at the local coffee shop. Google probably spent more developing street-view that the entire Nicaraguan military budget for the last decade.

        Oh, and Costa Rica doesn't have a military at all. So it's not like Nicaragua is particularly worried about a massive confrontation.

        Granted, there was very little cartography of the island available... but to resort to tourist maps?

        B

  • by js3 (319268)

    Mark one for incompetence. If you can't afford your own territorial mapping system maybe you shouldn't be in the taking down another countries flag business.

    • Odds are they do have their own territorial mapping system(it may still be some clunky paper nightmare, possibly even inherited from their avaricious ex-colonial-masters; but it is probably there). I'm guessing that this is a case of ease-of-use and perceived authority winning the day.

      Google maps, and Google Earth, are trivial to use(unless you get into serious Google Earth Fu, which is still easier than serious ArcGIS Fu), produce good looking results, and are available from nearly any internet connecte
  • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kiwimate (458274)

      The blog post you link doesn't mention that Excel did it because it had to be compatible with Lotus 1-2-3, which introduced the bug.

      I realized your post (and that blog post you link) is debating whether the ISO standard should've reflected this in the first place. But intimating it's Microsoft's fault is disingenuous.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by PeterKraus (1244558)

        Cause it was Lotus who pushed OOXML trough ISO too.

      • If you look at Lotus Symphony today, you see that it doesn't replicate this bug. Maybe Microsoft should try to be compatible with the real world? Just a thought.
    • by AndrewNeo (979708)

      So Google's plan to take over the world all along was to do it through Google Maps? It all makes sense!

  • by MooMooFarm (725996) on Friday November 05, 2010 @07:57AM (#34134684)
    we can't have nice things.
  • Blame your ignorant, power-hungry, paternalistic military leaders who don't do any fact checking, and don't even care!
    What's worse, they destroyed forest in a protected area and dumped the waste in to the river. How stupid and destructive can these guys be?
  • Flags (Score:5, Funny)

    by Himring (646324) on Friday November 05, 2010 @07:58AM (#34134700) Homepage Journal
    We stole countries with the cunning use of flags. Just sail around the world and stick a flag in. "I claim India for Britain!" They're going "You can't claim us, we live here! Five hundred million of us!" "Do you have a flag ? "What? We don't need a flag, this is our home, you bastards" "No flag, No Country, You can't have one! Those are the rules... that I just made up!...and I'm backing it up with this gun, that was lent to me from the National Rifle Association." --Eddie Izzard
  • Irony... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Chris_Stankowitz (612232) on Friday November 05, 2010 @07:58AM (#34134702)

    "(Google translation of Spanish original)."

    How can I trust it now?

  • You know, all things considered, I'm not sure I want to trust a Google translation of the Spanish news article.

  • Yesterday at noon, a disgruntled google employee disbanded the unit states of america, the territory was renamed to the pants of canada in google maps, rising widespread global confusion.

    The white house reacted quickly to solve the problem and re-inaugured obama as the president of the pants of canada.
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday November 05, 2010 @08:14AM (#34134844)

    See, it's stuff like this that's going to give South American military juntas a bad name.

  • by snspdaarf (1314399) on Friday November 05, 2010 @08:19AM (#34134888)
    Who is commanding this chicken-shit outfit? Simons? How could they not know something was wrong when they find the wrong flag on the flagpole? "Hey! Those bastards snuck over and put up their flag on our land! This land here...that we never had before..." This sounds like a land grab, and if someone notices, blame Google for a "map error."
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by swillden (191260)

      How could they not know something was wrong when they find the wrong flag on the flagpole?

      The original article says that they raised the Nicaraguan flag, but not that they took down a Costa Rican flag. I'm not sure where that "information" came from.

    • by Thelasko (1196535)

      This sounds like a land grab, and if someone notices, blame Google for a "map error."

      If Costa Rica doesn't like it, what are they going to do about it? [wikipedia.org]

  • the bond film?

    the bad guy is basically rupert murdoch (played by jonathan pryce)

    he brings china and the uk to the brink of war by hacking the gps satellite's signals, making a british warship think it is in international territory when it has actually strayed into chinese waters. launch a few missiles... china thinks the uk is firing on them, the uk thinks china is firing on them: all in a plot to sell more newspapers (well, it is 1997, when newspapers were still relevant)

    reality is beginning to resemble the plots of bond movies

    i'm waiting for dr. no to become reality

  • I assume that the commander has seen court martial for his stupidity?

    Countries and militaries have their own official maps which they should use, and if he relies on google, then it's his neck on the line.

    For a related anecdote - in USSR times *all* the civilian maps were deliberately distorting data, especially in the border areas. I still have the maps and had relatives living there - pretty much all of the sea-side roads in maps were completely wrong, but the same in all maps. Only the military topograph

  • The article looks like an advertisement to me. Just like Verizon vs Att. Here bing/yahoo vs google in the lines of Nigerian scam.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    There's a map for that.

  • "taking down a Costa Rican flag and raising the Nicaraguan flag"

    I mean come on really?

    "We were just walking along and we tripped, and as we we falling grabbed onto some sort of flag to keep from falling, but it wasn't strong enough so it got ripped down.... luckily I had our own flag in my back pocket, so I thew that up the flag pole just so I wouldn't hit the ground!"

    "Then we burned the other flag because it was all broken and shit."

    "The we cleaned a river for some reason, and dumped all the dirt and such

  • by debilo (612116)
    Don't be evil, my ass!
  • by benwiggy (1262536) on Friday November 05, 2010 @08:39AM (#34135108)
    It doesn't really matter whether the data is accurate. There are all sorts of diplomatic incidents from soldiers not reading the map correctly.

    For instance, in 2002, the UK Royal Marines accidentally invaded Spain, because of a map reading error.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/1827554.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    Hence the old joke: "What's the most dangerous thing in the British Army? -- An officer with a map."

    • by c6gunner (950153)

      Eh. There was no diplomatic incident from that "invasion", it was mostly a case of the UK blushing while Spain had a nice hearty laugh.

      Also, that was a tiny mistake. They were only a couple hundred meters from where they were supposed to be. I once took part in a beach-assault where, despite the use of GPS, our guides somehow managed to bring us in more than 3 kilometers away from the designated landing. Luckily, we weren't near a neighbouring nation.

  • by pinkushun (1467193) on Friday November 05, 2010 @08:44AM (#34135158) Journal

    Today I used Google maps (instead of the official ones, with hopes no one would notice), to justify raiding neighboring land. If General finds out he's gonna be sooo pissed! FML.

    - Nicaraguan commander, Eden Pastora

  • not the first time (Score:2, Informative)

    by Paradise Pete (33184)
    That border area has been under dispute for some time. I'm sure they knew exactly what they were doing.
    In fact the entire Guanacaste region used to be part of Nicaragua.
  • I'm not that surprised. Here in Grenada the google maps are still in a developing state. There are roads on the map but none of them are named etc. Google is allowing edits, but the going is slow

  • If you think this is bad, just wait until you hear what happened next with an inadvertent combination of autocomplete and "I'm feeling lucky". There were no survivors.

  • "Vikings? There ain't no Vikings here, just us honest farmers. The town was burning, the villagers were dead. They didn't need those sheep anyway. That's our story and we're sticking to it."

  • by Stooshie (993666)
    From the article:

    " ... An error on google maps has caused an international conflict in Central America ... "
    And " ... (Note: I'm using the Google Translation of this original article) ... "

    Now is that wise given the content of the article?
  • by SpaghettiPattern (609814) on Friday November 05, 2010 @11:11AM (#34137320)
    Didn't even bother to check the absolute source of truth, Wikipedia. Newbies.

"'Tis true, 'tis pity, and pity 'tis 'tis true." -- Poloniouius, in Willie the Shake's _Hamlet, Prince of Darkness_

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