Google takes down Google Map Maker due to ‘peeing’ hack

12 May 2015

After a couple of high-profile, and highly embarrassing, hacks of Google Maps, the search giant has taken down its editor tool until it can sort out the loopholes.

The browser-based map editor had allowed for auto-approval and user moderation worldwide. In doing so, it let local people finesse the remarkable work Google itself achieved when creating its global map.

However, reacting to a series of “spam” attacks, most notably the recent inclusion of a park in Pakistan that looked like an Android relieving itself on an apple, it’s taken some fairly firm “temporary” action.

“All of our edits are currently going through a manual review process,” explained Google’s Pavithra Kanakarajan.

“We have been analysing the problem and have made several changes. However, it is becoming clear that fixing some of this is actually going to take longer than a few days.”

There’s a decent chance you’ve never heard of Map Maker, but its crowdsourced compilation of key local information is the reason many parts of North Korea, for example, are included in the overall work.

Many states may not provide full, accurate information, so the utilisation of locals is absolutely key to Google Maps’ perceived accuracy.

The problem is that Google’s Map Maker is very heavily reliant on trust. A group of editors all around the world build up a reputation for making accurate edits, meaning their work is less reviewed than when, say, I decide to build a railway connecting Dublin to Cardiff.

Indeed the Pakistan incident was drafted by “a strong user in our community”, said Kanakarajan.

Android relieving itself on an apple

A Google Map Maker editor created this fake park in Pakistan recently

“Given the current state of the system, we have come to the conclusion that it is not fair to any of our users to let them continue to spend time editing. Every edit you make is essentially going to a backlog that is growing very fast.

“We believe that it is more fair to say that if we do not have the capacity to review edits at roughly the rate they come in, we have to take a pause.”

Map image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic