Google Roundup for January 2017

Google Maps has updated its ride services mode in its iOS and Android app, allowing you to book an Uber ride from within the app, and may offer parking availability in an upcoming Android release. [Engadget]

Meanwhile, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, seems to be scaling back its satellite imaging ambitions: it’s apparently in talks to sell its Terra Bella division, which it acquired as Skybox Imaging for $500 million in 2014, to competitor Planet. [Engadget]

Electionland Map Tracks Search Interest in Voting Issues

electionland

The Electionland Google Trends map visualizes voting issues during today’s electoral process. It’s based on real-time Google search interest (rather than actual reported problems) in five issues: inactive voter status, long wait times, provisional ballots, voting machine problems and voter intimidation. More about the map and how it works. [Maps Mania]

Street View Protects Cow Privacy

Google’s Street View blurs people’s faces for privacy reasons. Licence plates, too. But a tweet by the Guardian’s David Shariatmadari reveals that Google’s algorithm sometimes extends privacy rights to cows.

See the BBC’s coverage. Some context from Slate.

Fast Company Profiles Ed Parsons

Fast Company profiles Google’s geospatial technologist Ed Parsons, whose name should be familiar to longtime Map Room readers. (I first encountered his work when he was still at the Ordnance Survey; he joined Google in 2007.) In some way the profile uses Ed to understand Google’s mapping ambitions, which Ed discusses at length. Understanding the corporate via the personal, as it were. (Parsons was also the subject of a similar profile in The Independent in 2014.) [Owen Boswarva]

Human-Annotated Maps for Self-Driving Cars

Self-driving cars need extremely detailed and comprehensive maps in order to work—far more detailed than what’s usually available. Paradoxically, Vox’s Timothy B. Lee reports, that’s going to require significant human labour, in the form of human analysts annotating the map. “As Google and its competitors expand their self-driving vehicle programs nationwide, they’re going to have to hire thousands of human analysts to produce the detailed maps that enable cars to drive safely.” [MAPS-L]

And in Google Maps News …

Google’s Map Maker is in the process of reopening, with six countries reopening on August 10 and another 45 countries last Monday. Map Maker, Google’s tool allowing users to make changes to Google Maps, was suspended last May after some embarrassing edits came to light. Regional leads are now in place to review user edits before they go live on the map.

If mapcodes and other geographical shortcodes aren’t Googly enough for you, take a look at Open Location Codes, a Google-developed, open-sourced project. Generated algorithmically rather than with data tables. Announced for developers last April, they can now be used in Google Maps searches.

Google Apologizes for Offensive Map Search Results

Google Maps had to apologize again last week, this time because searching for racist terms gave results like the White House and Howard University. The results were derived from online discussions: idiots using an offensive term to describe a place associated the term with the place in Google’s search algorithms. Google says it’s changing the algorithm to fix the problem (because algorithms are to Google what procedures are to bureaucracies—the source of, and solution to, all life’s problems). Boing Boing, Engadget.

Previously: Google Map Maker Program Suspended.

Google Map Maker Program Suspended

Google is temporarily suspending Map Maker, its tool allowing user contributions to Google Maps, until they fix their edit moderation system. Auto-approvals of map edits had been suspended in the wake of the notorious and high-profile edits to the map near Rawalpindi; since then edits to the map have required manual approval, which has created a massive backlog. “We believe that it is more fair to only 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.” Via The Verge.

Previously: Google Maps Edits Cause Embarrassment; A Google Map Maker Roundup.

Google Maps Edits Cause Embarrassment

Some embarrassment for Google Maps last week, as they were forced to apologize for an image of the Android mascot peeing on an Apple logo that turned up on the map near Rawalpindi in Pakistan. To say nothing of the phrase “Google review policy is crap” etched into nearby Takht Pari Forest. Both have since been removed. Boing Boing, the Guardian, The Verge.

To be fair to Google, crowdsourcing map data does have its pitfalls: OpenStreetMap has to deal with this sort of thing all the time. You have to have something in place to deal with bad-faith edits. None of the edits I’ve made to Google Maps went through without someone reviewing them, so I’m surprised that this could happen. That said, when you need your map updated fast (such as during natural disasters like yesterday’s earthquake in Nepal), it’s hard to beat crowdsourcing.

As always, it’s important to keep in mind that all online maps have their shortcomings.

Ground Truthing Google Maps

“Google Street View wasn’t built to create maps like this, but the geo team quickly realized that computer vision could get them incredible data for ground truthing their maps.” The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal gets an exclusive look at Google’s “Ground Truth” program, which uses Street View cars to check and improve map data. I can’t help but see giving press access to this as another example of Google explaining how hard making their maps is for competitive reasons.