Google Maps is by far and wide one of the most comprehensive map systems for mobile users, and while there are other options for more accurate maps out there, Google Maps is widely used and updated consistently. Google doesn’t do all the work for the Maps system on its own, some of the content is community driven and user submitted with a tool they have employed called Map Maker, which helps to keep local maps updated and as accurate as possible. It’s the user submitted content that also led to people coming across a lewd image of the Android robot urinating on the Apple logo just earlier this morning. While it may have been meant as a harmless prank, there are likely some people who would take offense to it. It could also come off as unprofessional on Google’s part because Google Maps is their service, and not everyone will know that Maps relies partially on user created content to keep local maps updated, so some could see this as a tasteless joke made by Google taking a jab at a rival competitor even if that isn’t actually the case.
In addition to the image of the Android and Apple logos that was found, not far from the same location there was another portion of the map that contained a message stating “Google review policy is crap,” joined by the depiction of frowning face. Both images were reportedly located in the area of Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and Google has since removed the images from Maps so they can no longer be seen. Google has also sent out a formal apology about the images, stating that “We’re sorry for this inappropriate user-created content; we’re working to remove it quickly.”
While it’s good to know that this was user-created content and not a tacky joke from Google, what’s interesting is how something of this nature was able to slip through the cracks and make it into a live version of the Google Maps service where other users could find it. The Washington Post also reports that these aren’t the first instances of pranks showing up in Google Maps from users, directing attention to a previous user added listing in The White House called “Edwards Snow Den.” While all of the instances here are generally just ridiculous pranks, the open nature of the Maps system through the Map Maker tool could have more of a serious effect if Google doesn’t keep a closer eye on things.
Just last year there was an instance of a security researcher named Bryan Seely who was able to intercept government phone calls, just by simply altering the phone numbers associated with address listings in Google Maps for the San Francisco field office of the FBI as well as the Secret Service in Washington D.C. By changing these numbers, the people calling into these branches of government had no idea that Seely had actually set things up to receive the calls to numbers he had activated before the calls ended up rerouted to correct numbers, allowing him to record the phone calls. The whole situation sheds light on the fact that someone may need to have more of a watchful eye for these types of things to avoid future pranks or even future security issues.