Earlier this month, a group of Palestinian journalists published a statement accusing Google of deleting Palestine from Google Maps. The truth is, Google never acknowledged Palestine in the first place. In their pursuit of mapping the physical world online, these companies simultaneously shape our understanding of it too. This makes us wonder if the map really is the territory.
Elizabeth Davidoff, Google's communications manager responded: “There has never been a ‘Palestine’ label on Google Maps, however we discovered a bug that removed the labels for ‘West Bank’ and ‘Gaza Strip’. We’re working quickly to bring these labels back to the area”.
With over a billion monthly views, Google Maps is one of the world’s greater sources of geographic data and probably the first place you turn to when looking for a location. In fact, Google Maps is slowly becoming the first Universal Map. The first attempt dates back to 1891, when Albrecht Penck, a German geographer, proposed an International World Map as until that time there was no map of the planet. Unfortunately, Penck’s vision was never finished.
As smartphone usage keeps increasing, it's only a matter of time until one standardized map will be imposed to us. At least for now, some Palestinians have said that they are switching to Microsoft’s Bing Maps, as this service does label Palestine as its own. The valuable lesson we have learned today is that technology is not always neutral, companies like Google and Apple each present their own biased versions of the world.