OpenStreetMap’s ‘Unholy Alliance’

OpenStreetMap, says Joe Morrison, “is now at the center of an unholy alliance of the world’s largest and wealthiest technology companies. The most valuable companies in the world are treating OSM as critical infrastructure for some of the most-used software ever written.” Corporate teams, rather local mappers, are now responsible for the majority of edits to the OSM database; Morrison speculates that their participation is about “desperately avoiding the existential conflict of having to pay Google for the privilege of accessing their proprietary map data.” In the end, he argues that we’re in a strange-bedfellows situation where corporate and community interests are aligned. (To which I’d add: for now.) [MetaFilter]

Previously: OpenStreetMap at the Crossroads; OpenStreetMap ‘In Serious Trouble’.

Fake Coronavirus Web Maps Are Spreading Malware

Hackers have created fake coronavirus map websites that install malware on users’ computers. According to Reason Security’s analysis, the websites resemble the coronavirus map dashboards produced by legitimate organizations, but prompt users to download an application: the application activates a known malicious piece of malware called AZORult, which collects browser information (cookies, browser histories, IDs and passwords). Not terribly surprising that bad actors are trying to exploit a crisis, but depressing all the same. More at Business Insider, The Hacker News and TechRadar.

Google Maps Data and the Google Maps Platform

Google Maps product director Ethan Russell has a post about their map data: how (and how often) it’s updated, how to submit updates, how it’s managed and checked for accuracy, that sort of thing. It’s one of a series of posts on the Google Maps Platform, which is (now) their maps API for businesses.

Previously: Google Maps Changes API Pricing, Competitors Respond.

Complaints about Facebook’s Automated Edits in Thailand

Facebook’s AI tool has added some 480,000 kilometres of previously unmapped roads in Thailand to OpenStreetMap, BBC News reports, but some local mappers have been complaining about the quality of those edits, and the overwriting of existing edits by Facebook’s editors: see OSM Forum threads here and here. In particular, see OSM contributor Russ McD’s rant on the Thai Visa Forum:

What Facebook fail to state is the inaccurate manner in which their AI mapping worked. The OSM community in Thailand had for years, been working slowly on mapping the Country, with the aim of producing a free to use and accurate map for any user. Information was added backed by a strong local knowledge, which resulted in a usable GPS navigation system based on OSM data. Main road were main roads, and jungle tracks were tracks.

Then along came Facebook with its unlimited resources and steamrollered a project in Thailand with scant regard for contributors … sure they paid lip service to us, with offers of collaboration, and contact emails … but in reality, all our comments went unanswered, or simply ignored.

Sure, their imagery identified roads we had not plotted, but along with that came the irrigation ditches, the tracks though rice paddies, driveways to private houses, and in once case, an airport runway! All went on the map as “residential roads”, leaving any GPS system free to route the user on a physical challenge to make it to their destination.

Local users commented, but the geeky humans who were checking the AI, living thousands of miles away, having never visited Thailand, just ignored our comments. They would soon move onto bigger and better things, while sticking this “success” down on their resume.

Sounds like another case of local mapping vs. armchair mapping and automated edits, where local mappers are swamped and discouraged by edits from elsewhere. [Florian Ledermann]

Previously: OpenStreetMap at the Crossroads.

Satellite Mode, Aerial Mode, Bird Mode

A lot of what we refer to on online maps as “satellite imagery” actually isn’t: the high-resolution stuff is usually taken from airplanes. This can be a point of confusion for some—and, according to this Twitter thread from Google Maps co-creator Bret Taylor, also a point of contention for the Google Maps team before it launched. Some engineers felt that calling the layer “Satellite” was factually incorrect—because of that aerial imagery—and therefore shouldn’t be used; others argued for “Satellite” based on label size and usability studies. It nearly got called “Bird Mode” as a compromise. [Boing Boing]

The Washington Post Maps the U.S.-Mexico Border

The print edition of today’s Washington Post maps the fences and walls along the U.S.-Mexico border. The online version, which I seem to have missed when it was posted in October, offers a much more detailed look: it’s an interactive, scrollable map that offers a flyover view of the border, fenced and unfenced, as it passes through farms, ranches, towns and impossibly rugged terrain between the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico.

DuckDuckGo Now Uses Apple Maps in Search Results

Google integrates its maps into its search results: synergy! What, then, is scrappy upstart search engine DuckDuckGo, which makes a point of not tracking its users,1 to do in response? Answer: use Apple Maps. “We’re excited to announce that map and address-related searches on DuckDuckGo for mobile and desktop are now powered by Apple’s MapKit JS framework, giving you a valuable combination of mapping and privacy.”

Mapping Natural Disasters in France

In response to the latest round of flash floods in France, The Local has a piece looking at natural disasters in France that points to a set of interactive maps from France Info (in French; page doesn’t work well in Safari) that show the number of natural disasters, by commune, since 1982, as well as the number of disasters due to flooding and drought. The maps indicate where the disaster hot spots are in France and (to some extent) where they aren’t: only 3.5 percent of French communes have never had a disaster declaration in that period. Sixty percent of the disasters were due to flooding; The Local also points to the Global Flood Map: zooming in sufficiently shows the zones for high and moderate risk of flooding. [Gretchen Peterson]

Here XYZ

Here Maps is still around, and they’ve announced the public beta of Here XYZ, a set of tools for developers to create online and interactive maps. There are several levels of said tools: Here XYZ Studio is a web-based application designed for non-developers; there are more advanced tools and APIs available, up to and including a command-line interface. Documentation is here. [Maps Mania]

Previously: Google Maps Changes API Pricing, Competitors Respond.

Google Maps Changes API Pricing, Competitors Respond

Earlier this year Google Maps changed the terms of its API and in the process jacked up its prices, leaving web developers to consider other alternatives. These include (among others) OpenStreetMap, which posted a switching guide in June; Apple, which announced its API for websites that same month; and Here Maps, which (a) is still around1 and (b) has announced a freemium plan with reasonably generous transaction limits. As Engadget points out, Google’s trying to profit off its market dominance; its competitors, seeing an opening, are making their move. [Engadget]

Google’s Invented Neighbourhoods

Google Maps (screenshots)

Google is assigning names to neighbourhoods that, the New York Times reports, have little basis in reality—but once on Google Maps, those names swiftly come into a popular usage they never had before. The East Cut, in San Francisco, was the product of a branding agency; Fiskhorn, in Detroit, is actually a misspelling of Fishkorn, taken from a typo in the source map. (Searching for “Fishkorn” works just as well, though.) How such names end up on Google Maps, and therefore get a certain canonicity, is what’s interesting: it seems to be the result of a tech giant processing diverse data with remote fact checkers and not much in the way of local knowledge. [Boing Boing]

Google Maps Switches to 3D Globe at Small Scales


Web mapping uses Web Mercator. As Kenneth Field points out, this is fine at large scales, but at small scales you end up replicating the problem of using the Mercator projection on a wall map of the world.1 Zoom out in Apple Maps: using the map layer you get a Mercator; using imagery you get a virtual globe (basically, an orthographic projection you can spin). Ditto in Google Earth. But Google Maps, after some tests and starts, now does this in its map layer—and not just in Chrome, either. This means, among other things, that Antarctica is usably visible, as are the Arctic regions—and, of course, Greenland is its proper size at small scales.

Introduction to MapKit JS

Video and presentation slides from Apple’s “Introduction to MapKit JS” session at WWDC yesterday afternoon. MapKit JS is, as I mentioned Tuesday, a method for developers to embed Apple’s maps on their websites. Apple is pitching it as a way for developers who use Apple Maps in their iOS apps to use the same maps on their websites: continuity of look and feel and all that.

MapKit JS: Apple Maps Gets an API for Websites

MapKit has been around for a few years as an API to allow iOS developers to embed Apple’s maps into their apps. What seems to be new this year is MapKit JS, which enables developers to do with Apple Maps that they’ve been able to do for years with Google Maps, OpenStreetMap, MapBox and even the Ordnance Survey: embed the maps on their websites. Keir Clarke runs through the services and limitations of the API: notably, it requires an Apple Developer account ($99/year) to use. It’s still in beta, so everything is subject to change; in the meantime, Vasile Coțovanu has whipped up a demo. [Maps Mania]