Blank Map Tiles Point to Locations of Xinjiang Detention Centres

As part of their investigation into China’s practice of detaining Uighur and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, Buzzfeed News journalists compared blanked-out areas in Baidu Maps with uncensored imagery from Google Earth and satellite data providers, and, after sorting through some 50,000 possible locations using custom web tools, built a database of some “428 locations in Xinjiang bearing the hallmarks of prisons and detention centers.” This article explains the methodology.

Blurring or removing map data to prevent people from seeing something important or sensitive is a pretty loud signal that there’s something important or sensitive to see there. Some five million Baidu Maps tiles were masked in Xinjiang alone—there’s a lot the Chinese government considers sensitive—which made the unmasking considerably harder. But not impossible.

Author: Jonathan Crowe

Jonathan Crowe blogs about maps at The Map Room. His essays and reviews have been published by AE, Calafia, The New York Review of Science Fiction, the Ottawa Citizen, Strange Horizons and Tor.com. He lives in Shawville, Quebec.