Google Mapathon contest comes under scanner
The Survey of India, the official survey and mapping organisation of the country, has taken exception to Google Mapathon 2013, a contest aimed at enabling users to map their neighborhood using Google Map Maker. Based on a complaint by Survey of India, the Delhi police has initiated an inquiry against Google.
As a part of the Mapathon 2013 contest, which was held during February-March, participants were required to add their knowledge of local places through Google’s Map Maker, a web-based tool for improving maps. According to Google, the competition is a way of crowd-sourcing (sourcing information from a large number of people) to get the most comprehensive, accurate and easy-to-use maps of the country.
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In its complaint, the Survey of India has said the Mapathon 2013 activity is likely to jeopardise national security interests and violates the national map policy. According to the National Map Policy, 2005, the responsibility for producing, maintaining and disseminating the topographic map database lies with the Survey of India.
According to the guidelines Google issued to the contestants of Mapathon 2013, sensitive locations are not to be mapped.
In a statement today, Google said the company took security and national regulations very seriously and was open to discussing specific concerns with public authorities and officials.
“Map Maker was launched in India with the goal of making local information more accessible to all, by allowing people to add information to Google Maps. Relevant Indian authorities, including the ministry of science and technology and the Surveyor General of India, have been briefed on Map Maker, which complies with all applicable laws," Google added.
According to experts, the government organisation’s complaint is a reflection of its desperation as it has failed to keep pace with the mapping requirements of people.
“I think this is an attempt by an obsolete body to justify its existence," says Mahesh Murthy, founder & CEO of Alstorm, a digital marketing agency.
Agrees Ashish Gupta, a venture capital investor who had co-founded Internet company Junglee in the late 1990s.
“The reality is, the Survey of India never moved in line with where the world is going. This is the reason why it still thinks that most of the maps of India are classified where as the reality is most of the maps of India are available for free on the internet, and even selling on the streets of Frankfurt," he adds.
Experts are of the opinion that since its inception, the Survey of India has served only one customer, the Army. Since most of the maps were classified, it never kept pace with the technological evolution. With satellite imagery, maps of any location in the world are now available free on the Internet. Any serious map user who wants a high-resolution hiking map of the mountains in India can get it from Germany.
“I used to buy maps from Germany through friends, and those are better hiking maps for the Himalayas. It is just stupid to say that maps here are classified, whereas those guys use satellite imageries to make hiking maps for the Himalayas," says Gupta..
How does Google Map Maker work?
Google launched Map Maker in India in 2008. Google Map Maker is an easy-to-use tool that allows users to add more detail to Google Maps through a few simple clicks. Using the Map Maker, one can select a specific area on Google Maps and add new information based on his/her own local knowledge or by referencing Google Maps satellite imagery. With just another click, you can save and submit your input and once the submitted edit has been verified, the new information will be added to Google Maps.
According to the guidelines issued to the contestants of Mapathon 2013, the company has restricted them to map sensitive locations. In a statement issued on Friday, Google said that the company takes the security and national regulations very seriously and is open to discussing specific concerns with public authorities and officials.
“Map Maker was launched in India with the goal of making local information more accessible to all, by allowing people to add information to Google Maps. Relevant Indian authorities, including the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Surveyor General of India, have been briefed on Map Maker, which complies with all applicable laws," the statement added.
Since Google Map Maker enables crowdsourcing of mapping information, it provides comprehensive and accurate maps during disaster. A couple years ago, the World Bank and the UN adopted Google Map Maker as one of their primary sources of mapping information during natural disasters. Another example of how the crowdsourced information delivered through Map Maker has created real impact in emerging markets comes from South Sudan.
In October 2010, Hollywood actor George Clooney and Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast created the Satellite Sentinel Project, an initiative dedicated to creating transparency about the mass atrocities in Sudan by using interactive mapping information. The Satellite Sentinel project implemented Map Maker technology so that everyone could help build better maps of South Sudan and become involved in helping to monitor and report human rights violations in their regions.