In recent years, Google Maps have become a go-to source for web-based mapping. They provide visualizations of virtually any location on Earth to varying degrees of detail, depending on the region.
But as Google has gained a foothold in markets around the world, adapting its versions to different countries and languages, an inevitable problem has emerged: how do you delineate international boundaries when they are disputed by multiple countries?
This caused problems for the tech giant earlier this year, when its Chinese characters mislabeled an area called Arunachal Pradesh, which is under Indian administration.
While a simple solution to border disputes would be to stick to internationally recognized demarcations, Google has taken things a step further. Rather than risk antagonizing disputes among its partner countries– each with its own market potential– Google has customized its maps according to different countries’ official positions on their versions of its Google Maps application.
“This does not in any way endorse or affirm the position taken by any side,” according to a Google spokesperson, “but merely provides complete information on the prevailing geo-political situation to our users of global properties in a dispassionate and accurate manner.”
Take, for example, the Chinese version of Google Maps:
The disputed boundaries between India and Pakistan are indicated by dotted lines. But the border with China (to the northeast of India) is nevertheless solid.
Consider, then, the Indian version of the same region:
Here, it appears the only disputed area lies between Tajikistan and China, to the north of India. Indian territory itself, including the western part of Kashmir which is often attributed to Pakistan, is not in question. Furthermore, the area between China and India, which in China’s version belong to China, now lies within Indian territory.
Finally, compare these two version to the standard version of Google Maps:
Here, all disputed boundaries are indicated by a dotted line.
These border disputes predate the Internet — and are unlikely to go away any time soon. Google has at least managed a temporary diplomatic resolution in cyberspace.