Putting together maps may seem
like a simple thing, but it can often have significant consequences, especially involving national identity and nationalistic feelings. And, given the prominence of Google Maps, the company has been no stranger to controversy over some of its mapping choices. Back in 2005, Taiwanese politicians protested Google referring to the island as a province of China
. Similarly, there have been complaints about Palestinian territories being labeled as a part of Israel
. Of course, given the very well documented disputes about the issues in both regions, it's no surprise that the mapping choices (either way) would likely upset some. Of course, my favorite Google Maps dispute may have been when Nicaragua accidentally invaded Costa Rica
and then blamed Google Maps for the mistake, which came close to creating a serious international incident
The latest such story involves Iran threatening to sue Google for not labeling the Persian Gulf
. The article goes through the details, and Google seems to dance around the subject. A spokesperson claims that not every body of water is labeled -- but as the report points out, lots of other bodies of water in the area (including many that are significantly smaller) are labelled. As the article notes, there is at least some
dispute over what the body of water is called, suggesting that Google's way of dealing with the controversy this time around is to just not label it at all. Though, clearly, that doesn't seem to have helped.
Of course, what I'm wondering is just what kind of "legal action" Iran thinks it can reasonably take here. I'm sure they can go after Google in an Iranian court, but I can't see how that matters. Google is outside their jurisdiction and the "worst" case scenario is that Google gets blocked. But given Iran's widespread internet censorship, and the expectation that it's about to expand greatly, it's not clear that even that would be a big change. If Iran were to sue somewhere else, what would be the basis? Not liking how a map is labeled doesn't automatically make it illegal.