Google workers accused of ‘vandalising’ open source maps

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Google employees seem, once again, to have pushed the limits of its “Do no evil” corporate mantra. According to Wired magazine, high-ranking members of OpenStreetMap (OSM), an open source mapping project that allows “to view, edit and use geographical data in a collaborative way from anywhere on Earth”,claim that “user accounts attached to a range of Google internet addresses in India have been maliciously tampering with its data”.

Google, meanwhile, claims the people behind the accounts were contractors using machines on the Google network and were “acting on their own behalf”. Speaking to Wired, a Google spokesperson said the two contractors were “no longer working on Google projects”.

Nonetheless, the actions of the contractors saw Mike Maron, a board member of the Open Street Mapping Foundation (OSMF) drawing parallels between what happened to it and Kenyan online business directory Mocality in an official blog post. The site, owned by emerging markets media giant Naspers, accused Google of pilfering customer data from it.

Google issued an apology, although some questions remained unanswered.

Accroding to Maron, the same thing is now happening to OSM:

Preliminary results show users from Google IP address ranges in India deleting, moving and abusing OSM data including subtle edits like reversing one-way streets.

Two OpenStreetMap accounts have been vandalizing OSM in London, New York and elsewhere from Google’s IP address, the same address in India reported by Mocality.

According to Maron, OSM has “over 102 thousand hists on OSM using at least 17 accounts from this Google IP”.

It is clear that Maron feels betrayed and confused by the actions coming from the two Google IP addresses.

“These actions are somewhat baffling given our past good relationship with Google which has included donations and Summer of Code work,” he says.

“ As a community we take the quality of our data extremely seriously and look forward to an explanation from Google and an undertaking to not allow this kind of thing to happen in the future”.

Wired reports that although OSM is open source, “it receives money, hardware, and data from Google Maps rivals Microsoft and the AOL-owned MapQuest” and that “Steve Coast, the founder of OSM, is now on the payroll at Microsoft as a member of the team that builds the mobile version of Bing, Microsoft’s search engine”.

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  • Rowan Puttergill

    This link http://opengeodata.org/google-ip-vandalizing-openstreetmap where the story was first reported, is pretty interesting. In particular, the comments section includes a comment from Tom Hughes, the OpenStreetMap system administrator who first discovered the incident, who vehemently states that there is a complete lack of evidence that this case is anything like Mocality. He points out that OSM frequently has bogus edits usually accidentally by users, and that the edits in this case just so happen to come from the Google IP address block. In his opinion, there is very little suspicious about the incident.

    In fact, later on, the OSMF claims that this post is a personal communication and does not represent the position of their board. More concerning is that one of the authors of the post is Steve Coast (one of the founders of OSM) who now works for Microsoft Bing Maps. There is a general feeling that this story is a cheap attack on Google, without any real evidence that Google has misbehaved in any way.

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