Unknown Google Maps users altering names of Spanish towns to reflect their former status as Islamic kingdoms
As I have said in a hundred blogs or more, maintaining a national accurate map data-set is a costly exercise. It takes time, local knowledge, a lot of relationships and a passion for your country.
It has been interesting spending 8 years in one of those companies to see on one side, staff working really hard to get every single street name right, or making sure the speed zone or intersection controls are accurate and current, mapping road centre lines to sub 15cm with a car that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then having major brands of car navigation and fleet management putting the squeeze on price so they can sell their product for a pittance.
When you devalue knowledge or provide open source access to modifying the core data, without expert checking, or it is managed by people who do not live in a country, or have a local customer advocacy focus, you have risk. In the car navigation and Fleet Management industries that risk is brand (or expensive tax or insurance audits) , and can end up being very expensive for the consumer who paid $99 for the device.
There are multiple edges to open source data. What level of information are you willing to accept from total strangers and build into your critical data set? This example demonstrates that not all contributors are benign.
We have some wonderful people who help with data and really want to do good work, just for the sake of being a contributing citizen. Others may want to pull pranks or have a bit of fun, which is fine if it is corrected in time, but there are others with more sinister objectives and maps have of course been a military tool for disinformation for millennia.
Whatever the cause behind the people who changed the names of Spanish towns to reflect their former Islamic status, it exposes a weakness in the management of curated tools, especially when people rely on them for accuracy to run business, to travel, to manage their lives. That’s why local mapping companies are so important. As they disappear, so do years of passion, commitment and experience.
I’m not criticizing the model or Google. I doubt there is a day in my year that I don’t use a Google map. I’m just suggesting that here are inherent dangers that can’t be mitigated by simply revoking someone’s account. How long does it take to set up a new Google account?
If you are working in open data, there are degrees of open and I suggest that you add some form of vigilance early in the process. Is near enough good enough? What are the risks to your customers, to your reputation? How do you ensure that your data product can be presented as consistently accurate and reliable?