We cannot deny it; GPS Navigation applications, such as Google Maps and Google Earth, have made it much easier to travel. Daily, millions of us use these applications to share our locations with friends, guide us to the best routes, and allow us to explore new destinations. We have become very trusting of their ability to safely and accurately lead us. But, what if they make a mistake? What if they were misused for evil? What if Google Maps accidentally leads us to danger (or worse still, your mother-in-law’s doorstep)?
A man in Peru was searching for walking directions to a popular local bridge using Google Maps Street View. Street View is a service provided by Google Maps which shows a 3D image of the surroundings on and nearby various roads. While using this service to view and map his route, he noticed a woman cuddling flirtatiously with a man on a bench alongside the road. Although her face was blurred out, he recognized the woman’s clothes and body figure to be none other than his own wife. He confronted her with the image and she admitted to the affair at the time the picture was taken five years earlier. They have since divorced.
Eden Pastora was an ex-guerrilla leading a Nicaraguan dredging team along the San Juan River which separates Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The team was following directions provided by Google Maps. Following these directions, they set up camp on nearby Calero Island. This area had long been contested by both countries. Although Calero Island had been legally recognized as Costa Rica territory, Google Maps had it incorrectly labeled as Nicaraguan. This caused tensions to rise and resulted in both countries sending security forces to the area. Google has since admitted that Colero Island does, in fact, belong to Costa Rica; also stating that “by no means should (Google Maps) be used as a reference to decide military action between two countries”. A rather wise caution.
The city of Sunrise, Florida is a large city which was home to over 90,000 people. But during the summer of 2010 (at least according to Google Maps) it disappeared. Searches for the city of Sunrise provided results for the well-known city of Sarasota, over 200 miles away. Sunrise’s addresses, businesses, parks, and phone numbers had disappeared from the app. This caused the city to suffer economically for a month or so until Google finally managed to get it straightened out; and blamed it on an internal glitch. Beats blaming it on AI I guess.
Lauren Rosenberg was a mid 20s Los Angeles native who was vacationing in Park City, Utah. She was using Google Maps on her Blackberry to guide her on a 2 mile walk. The app ended up leading her onto a four-lane highway with no sidewalks. The night was dark, and she was struck by a vehicle while she was trying to cross the boulevard. She suffered multiple bone fractures and needed six weeks of rehabilitation. It turned out that due to the small size of her Blackberry device’s screen, the Google Maps application displayed no warning that walking routes may have been missing safe pedestrian pathways. Lauren filed a $100,000 claim against Google after sustaining injuries and “emotional suffering” from her accident. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed as a judge determined Google bore no responsibility.
A 24-year-old college student, Amber VanHecke, was sightseeing from her car along the southern edge of the Grand Canyon. Her GPS took her from the highway to a dirt road, then from the dirt road to a much rougher path. This path was unmaintained and overgrown with cacti and grass. Amber figured that the road would get better ahead, but it never did. She found herself out of gas in an area with no cell reception and very few passers-by. She ended up spending the next five days lost and alone in the wilderness. She survived after eventually getting to an area with service where she made a 911 call and was finally rescued by helicopter.
An update to Google Earth in early 2019 caused a foreign government’s military operational secrets to be unveiled. The update included high-resolution images of an undisclosed military base in New Taipei, Taiwan. It showed a facility that stored Patriot missiles, as well as the defense infrastructure of their National Security Bureau. The exposure of this information was particularly dangerous because communist China still believes it owns Taiwan and has previously threatened military action to keep them in check.
Barbara Oliver and Co. Jewelry was the victim of a scam orchestrated using Google Maps and Reviews. This small-business was attacked by a local competitor who manipulated the businesses search results to include many false negative reviews, and also label the business as “permanently closed” with no hours of operation posted. The competitor was also able to flood his own page with 5-star positive reviews. Luckily, Barbara Oliver had a web consultant on retainer who was able to recognize these inaccuracies and contact Google to resolve the issue before any further damage was done.
Laurie Gneiding and her family lived in the countryside of Hunterdon County, New Jersey. Their home was at the end of a long, unmarked driveway which happened to be near Round Valley State Park. In the years after Google Maps’ launch, many travelers who were trying to get to the state park ended up at Laurie’s doorstep instead. She would politely guide them in the right direction, but her interactions with lost travelers later became overwhelming and sometimes hostile. It turned out the directions provided for three different locations in the state park, including “Round Valley Reservoir”, actually led right to Laurie’s home instead.
A woman from Montreal named Maria Pia Grillo was excited to try the new Street View Google Maps feature when it was released. She searched her home address and was horrified to find herself sitting slumped over on the front steps of her house with a huge amount of cleavage showing. Her face was blurred out, but it was not enough to make her anonymous. She was mocked at work because of the photo and ultimately quit her job due to the embarrassment. She was awarded more than $2,000 after a judge ruled that, “people do not forfeit their privacy rights simply by being in a location others can see them”.
Lindsay Diaz was one of many victims of a series of tornadoes that tore through the town of Rowlett, Texas in December of 2015. Her home was badly damaged, but luckily was still salvageable and could be repaired. While she were staying at a rental home the insurance company did their evaluation, finding that the rest of her damaged house had been completely demolished due to an error. The city of Rowlett had requested that a company demolish two nearby houses that were also damaged by the tornado. The company accidentally demolished Lindsay’s home instead; which was simply waiting to be renovated and fixed. How does one “accidentally” demolish the wrong building? Well, the demolition company claims that Google Maps was responsible. They claim the error was a glitch or an auto-correct issue which resulted in them showing up at Calypso Drive instead of the correct street name, Cousteau Drive. The demolition company ultimately took responsibility, and we imagine that they will never, ever, ever, ever make that mistake again.
Oh—and if you’re wondering why the featured image for this list has a penis drawn on it, here’s why.