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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.