Google’s Mysterious Maps

Jerry Brotton, author of A History of the World in 12 Maps, worries that Google is harming the field of cartography:

Though he concedes that Google Earth and Google Maps are useful and impressive tools, Brotton says that the company’s mapmaking projects are uniquely secretive. For as long as cartographers have been making maps, they’ve demonstrated how they arrived at their conclusions, forging a path for future mapmakers to follow. But Google, he says, has taken a less collegial approach: “(T)here is a crucial difference between what Google is doing and what went before, which is not simply about scale: it concerns the computerized source code used to build its geospatial applications. … For obvious commercial reasons, Google does not disclose the specific details of its code, which means that for the first time in recorded history, a world view is being constructed according to information which is not publicly and freely available.”

Likening the situation to the debate over the company’s push to digitize as many books as possible, which would “arguably give Google a monopoly on the book search market,” Brotton suggests that there’s reason to be alarmed by this state of affairs. “The history of maps,” he writes, “has never previously known the possibility of a monopoly of valuable geographic information falling into the hands of one company.”