NPR : News

Google Maps Displays Crimean Border Differently In Russia, U.S.

The U.S. sees Crimea as "occupied territory," as the government said in a recent statement. But in Russia, Google Maps now shows the peninsula as part of Russian territory. America and its allies have refused to accept the region's separatist move to join Russia.

A look at the maps available on two Google Maps Web addresses — one ending in .com and another in .ru — shows the disparity. In Russia, Web visitors see a solid line dividing Crimea from neighboring Ukraine. In the U.S., a dotted line separates the two, implying a disputed status within the country.

NPR's Corey Flintoff reports for our Newscast unit:

"If you check Google Maps from the United States, you'll see Crimea portrayed as part of Ukraine. If you check from Russia, you'll see an international boundary drawn between Ukraine and the Black Sea peninsula, indicating that Crimea is part of Russia.

"A spokeswoman for Google Russia told the Itar-Tass news agency that Google follows local laws on representing borders — and since Russia claims Crimea, that's represented on the Russia version of the map.

"Google says it tries to be objective in marking disputed regions in various parts of the world."

The tech company's approach also reflects its need to follow the laws wherever its servers are located. Many countries keep a close eye on maps that cover disputed areas.

"Google maintains different versions of their mapping platform in different countries," John Gravois of Pacific Standard magazine tells NPR guest host Tess Vigeland on All Things Considered. "Last time I counted, there were over 30."

Other companies that create widely referenced maps have taken slightly different tacks on the Crimea issue.

"National Geographic has done sort of a version of what Google has done," says Gravois. "They note the border, but they shade Crimea differently from the rest of Russia, or Ukraine."

Rand-McNally has a different approach, he says. Following the lead of the U.S. State Department, the mapmaker continues to show Crimea as part of Ukraine.

Gravois says the sensitivity over how countries and territories are depicted on maps is both old and real.

"Historically, the most powerful mapmaker in the world was often the most powerful country in the world," he says. He adds that for many years, that distinction was held by the British Empire.

Instead of making one binding decision, Google can represent the viewpoints of different states in its maps, Gravois says.

But that doesn't mean everyone is happy with its approach. Take, for instance, the tech company's portrayal of the same body of water as the Persian Gulf for users in Iran and as the Arabian Gulf for those in neighboring states.

"And in the process," he says, Google "infuriates Iranians."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Bill Cunningham, Iconic 'New York Times' Photographer, Dies At 87

Cunningham worked at the Times for almost 40 years, capturing the fashion trends of the day with a timeless eye.
NPR

With A Zap, Scientists Create Low-Fat Chocolate

Scientists say they've figured out how to reduce the fat in milk chocolate by running it through an electric field. The result is healthier, but is it tastier?
NPR

Tracing The 43-Year History Of The U.K. In The European Union

The U.K. joined the European Union in 1973, hoping to gain from the booming economies on the continent. Historian Timothy Garton Ash explains the reasons why, and how the relationship soured.
NPR

President Obama Acknowledges 'Brexit' To Silicon Valley Crowd

President Obama delivered a speech Friday at Stanford University, and remarked on the Brexit vote in front of a crowd of young, tech-forward, pro-globalization attendees from 170 countries.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.