Sunday, April 29, 2007

Google Fails to Learn (again?)

It is not yet a month since the story broke over Google's use of pre-Katrina images in Google Maps and Google Earth. One would have thought that this incident had raised enough flack to teach Google a good lesson in the consequences that come from being too casual about their responsibility as an information provider. However, a Reuters story this morning seems to indicate that this is not the case and the Google's negligence has now scaled up from domestic embarrassment to an international controversy. (At least Google maintains its reputation for thinking big!)

The Reuters lead says it all:

The Chilean government wants Google to fix its Earth geographical search program that places a village named after Chilean independence hero Bernardo O'Higgins in Argentina.

The satellite image shows Villa O'Higgins, a tiny hamlet 1,000 miles south of the Chilean capital, Santiago, on the Argentine side of the border.

I had not realized the potential consequences of this error until, in a later paragraph, I learned something I had not previously known:

The two countries nearly went to war in the late 1970s over ownership of remote islands in the south. The dispute was resolved with the intervention of the Pope.

My guess is that no one at Google knew how sensitive this border issue was either, which makes me feel a little bit better! Once again, however, Google was out there with an official spokesperson, this time Megan Quinn. Unfortunately, her message was not that different from the Katrina patch-up:

We have received the request and are working with our partners to get more precise data for the region.

The operative word in that sentence is "partners." Google is quite happy to build the reputation of being the provider of all the world's knowledge, but it does not seem to have decided where the buck of responsibility for quality control should stop. Sadly, the current state of their revenue flow is unlikely to make them very conducive to learning. Would it help if, after his planned visit to the United Nations, the Pope extended his itinerary to include a stop in Mountain View?

No comments: