Get Me To The Gulag: Google’s Map Maker Becomes A Political Weapon

On Monday, Google announced that “citizen cartographers came together in Google Map Maker” to help create a “new map of North Korea” for Google Maps. BuzzFeed was the first to point out that the new maps contained references to “gulag” and “concentration camp.”

Gulags on Google Maps

Beyond this, some people on Google+ have added satirical, fake reviews to those locations. For example, Gulag 22 (a real place apparently), is rated as “excellent,” with one reviewer saying, “Most exquisite checkpoint, made possible by Honorable Soldiers of Glorious Leader.”

Gulags on Google Maps

Google+ offers its standard invitation for you to review the Gulag as well: “Your review will help your friends and others learn more about this place.” That’s just a generic component of the page but unintentionally funny in this context.

Gulag 22 reviews

Google Maps have been the subject of political controversy before but usually around disputed place names and borders, more straightforward map issues. Given this episode, activists and pranksters may try and use Map Maker to make more “statements.”

Indeed, hours after “gulags” were discovered on the North Korea map Danny Sullivan found a comparable Map Maker (“concentration camp”) update regarding the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison that the US operates in Cuba.

Gitmo "concentration camp" map

As was the case with the North Korean gulags, Google+ may also become a place where people make political or social statements about places. If that becomes widespread, Google may have to institute additional controls to prevent further pranking.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Features: Analysis | Google: Maps & Local | Google: Outside US | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Andrew Finkenbinder

    I’m not sure what the prank or humor is in city-sized forced labor camps accurately being called thus.

  • Danny Sullivan

    The story didn’t say that the North Korea sites weren’t being accurately labeled this way due pranking. It says that because volunteers are allowed to do this in North Korea, they can similarly do it in other places. In terms of North Korea, the only real pranking is in terms of the fake reviews people are now leaving about those city-sized forced labor camps.

  • Brian Mark

    I’m disappointed nobody commented on how much weight they lost. But, as always, good reporting.

  • Ross Canning

    When are we going to see a Google map of the moon surface? It’s probably already mapped out. Let’s get it done people.

  • Marc Beharry

    Already done, I just heard about it myself:

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