NPR notes an interesting recent change on Google Maps. Visitors to Google.Ru/Maps, the Russian edition of the site, now see the Crimean peninsula separated from the Ukrainian mainland by a sold line, implying an international border. On every other version of the site, however, there’s a dotted line implying that the border is disputed:
In a statement to ThinkProgress, the company said, “Google Maps makes every effort to depict disputed regions and features objectively. Our Maps product reflects border disputes, where applicable. Where we have local versions, we follow local regulations for naming and borders.”
According to the Independent, State Duma deputy and anti-opposition enforcer Alexander Sidyakin has called on the country’s “Federal Mass Media Inspection Service” to look into how the Russian versions of sites like Google, Bing, and Wikipedia are representing the territory.
A site as ubiquitous as Google Maps is inevitably going to get drawn into territorial disputes. It was criticized by the Israeli foreign ministry a few years ago for changing its designation from “Palestinian Territories” to “Palestine.” In the 2010 “Google Maps War,” a Nicaraguan official cited the site to justify a military incursion into disputed Costa Rican territory.
Unlike National Geographic’s unfortunate recent decision on Crimea, Google’s marking of the territory as disputed seems like a fair compromise between recognizing Russia’s de facto control on the ground, and the fact that no other countries have formally recognized the annexation. But if it’s “disputed” in every other country in the world, it should be “disputed” in Russia too.