How Google Maps Led to An Accidental Invasion

A Nicaraguan military commander recently invaded Costa Rican territory, and ordered troops to take down a Costa Rican flag and replace it with Nicaragua's. Was this the work of a brash commander, going rogue on his superiors? A new policy of Nicaraguan imperialism? Neither. The incident was caused by an error in Google Maps.

SearchEngineLand translates the details from La Nación, Costa Rica's largest newspaper, which reported that commander Eden Pastora blamed the incursion on a misleading border on Google Maps that was off by some 3000 meters.

La Nación points to a disparity between the borders on Bing and Google. We've highlighted the area in question:

A Google spokesperson was unsure what caused the mapping error. Whatever the answer, this could play into Bing's next marketing strategy: Bing, the search engine that doesn't cause international disputes.

You may well blame the Nicaraguan military for using Google Maps -- which, for all its usefulness in everyday life, is a relatively imprecise tool for official exercises near borders. But it's been little more than three years since the British Navy had the same problem, straying into Iranian waters by accident (Iran being far more dangerous than Costa Rica, which doesn't even have a full-time military) and blaming its military-grade GPS equipment for the error. A month before that, the Swiss military blundered into Liechtenstein on a training exercise -- because, they said, it was dark. That, at least, was one border crossing Google Maps might have prevented.

 

[Photo by Alex Steffler]

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7 Comments

  • Kenneth Funes Mora

    Mr. Ernesto Calvo, I can imagine, from your comments that you are from Nicaragua, clearly defending your government and therefore attacking our press (I'm costarrican). It's rather dangerous the actions that Nicaragua is now taking, even though that land has always been costarrican, and that is the way it appears even in Nicaragua's official maps.

    Just as a reminder, the dispute of Costa Rica with Nicaragua before the International Court of Justice at La Haya was NOT to define the border, but rather because Nicaragua was not allowing the free navigation of Costarricans in the delimiting river as it is clearly stated in our treaties. The Court determined that Nicaragua was violating Costa Rica's right, therefore I don't understand your definition of "winning".

    The reason why I say that Nicaragua's actions are dangerous is because, even though this article claims that is not an action of conquest, in a very suspicious way, the official maps from Nicaragua were removed from the website of INETER (The Nicaraguan institute of territorial studies) and now, in a unilateral manner, are being manipulated.

    Mr. Calvo, what does Google win by acknowledging that they made a mistake? but only propaganda against themselves. I don't understand why you say this is a "cheap shot from Google", please be more serious with this issue.

    Now, if Comander Eden Pastora knows the region very well, then why in his declarations he said that this was "nobody's land" in the first place. This is a stupid comment to do at the XXI century. Later on, when he saw Costarricans response, he changed his speech by saying the land was from Nicaragua... these are the kind of inconsistencies that Costa Rica is clearly demonstrating.

  • Kenneth Funes Mora

    Mr. Ernesto Calvo, I can imagine, from your comments that you are from Nicaragua, clearly defending your government and therefore attacking our press (I'm costarrican). It's rather dangerous the actions that Nicaragua is now taking, even though that land has always been costarrican, and that is the way it appears even in Nicaragua's official maps.

    Just as a reminder, the dispute of Costa Rica with Nicaragua before the International Court of Justice at La Haya was NOT to define the border, but rather because Nicaragua was not allowing the free navigation of Costarricans in the delimiting river as it is clearly stated in our treaties. The Court determined that Nicaragua was violating Costa Rica's right, therefore I don't understand your definition of "winning".

    The reason why I say that Nicaragua's actions are dangerous is because, even though this article claims that is not an action of conquest, in a very suspicious way, the official maps from Nicaragua were removed from the website of INETER (The Nicaraguan institute of territorial studies) and now, in a unilateral manner, are being manipulated.

    Mr. Calvo, what does Google win by acknowledging that they made a mistake? but only propaganda against themselves. I don't understand why you say this is a "cheap shot from Google", please be more serious with this issue.

    Now, if Comander Eden Pastora knows the region very well, then why in his declarations he said that this was "nobody's land" in the first place. This is a stupid comment to do at the XXI century. Later on, when he saw Costarricans response, he changed his speech by saying the land was from Nicaragua... these are the kind of inconsistencies that Costa Rica is clearly demonstrating.

  • Ernesto J. Calvo

    ABSURD..I will say that Google Company is taking advantage of the hot political situation going on as I write,,,Google has nothing to do with this...besides the Nicaraguan army is and alway has been in Nicaraguan territory...I feel sorry for LA NACIÓN newspaper its intentions to create distortions among the Costa Rican.... Comander Eden Pastora the person in charge of the San Juan River dredging, knows very well the area in question - besides the Nicaraguan Goverment just won a case related to limit and borders between Nicaragua and Costa Rica last yaer befor the International Court of Justice at La Haya...this is just a cheap shot from GOOGLE

  • Eddie Sandi

    So, are all other maps (including Nicaragua ones) wrong? Lets change them because Pastora knows better about it :)

  • HelpALocalBusiness

    Ha, ha... that's refreshing to discover that even some big companies makes mistakes. But at least they have to apologies for what they do. And what about that Nicaraguan military commander??! They don't have maps? Why uses Bing and company? Technology is nice but very tricky sometimes... Just read your new title "Google Tool May Have Had Wrong Polling Place Locations for Hundreds of Thousands of Voters" to see what I mean.

  • alberto jimenez

    This is a comment I posted at Gizmodo, might help to clarify some facts.

    I'm from Costa Rica. Good to see we made it to Giz.

    Now, seriously, it's important to clarify that Costa Rica has NO MILITARY. At all. No full time, no part time, absolutely nothing.

    All we have is cops.

    Now, as for the conflict, there's obviously a deeper story. This is my side:

    Nicaragüa is looking for ways to make money out of the river in question: the San Juan. Their short term plan (in our side of the story) is they want to build a hydroelectric dam. This means a huge environmental hazard. The funny thing is Nicaragua says they're just doing it to be nice, so everyone can sail peacefully.

    Legally speaking the river is from Nicaragua, but Costa Rica has full, unrestricted, navigation rights. However Nicaragua has never been happy with this agreement.

    What Nicaragua is doing now is cleaning the river, the problem is that they're dumping all the waste in the Costa Rican side. Of course, Nicaragua says that we shouldn't worry because Google says that's their side. The problem is that every legally issued map (from both countries) are the other way (like Bing), the right way.

    So Costa Rica sent cops to rise a Costa Rican flag. It's our side we have the right to do so...

    Some days later, Nicaraguan troops invaded Costa Rica swapped the flag, and camped in Costa Rica, it's a fact, Costa Rican cops got the picture (see link: you'll see Nicaraguan troops and a Nicaraguan flag in Costa Rican territory, pointing guns to aircraft NOT NICE). http://cache.gawker.com/assets...

    All Costa Rica is asking is respect for the borders.

    Update (added only in FastCompany): In my point of view the "Invasion" was not accidental... Eden Pastora (nicaraguan military) an Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua's president) are just a couple of inmature communists trying to disturb diplomacy. That's just MY point of view.