When Google Maps Fails

by Chris Silver Smith

This photo from Failblog illustrates a common experience for many online map users. In it, someone has posted a couple of signs stating “Dead End – Google error – Road Not Passable With Car – Google is in error…”, followed by detour instructions:

Google Maps Fail

The picture is funny, but the experience of driving somewhere wrong is not.

A particularly infamous example of Google Maps error is the case of James Kim, former senior editor for CNET, who became stranded with his family on an impassable road in the winter, purportedly as a result of following Google Maps directions. After the family car became stranded, Kim walked in snowy conditions to try to find help, but died. (There were apparently a number of other contributing factors, including warning signs that were removed and barricade gates left unlocked and such.)

There are quite a few sources of errors in online maps, so it’s almost miraculous that they work as well as they do. A significant number of people I know personally have experienced inconvenience from incorrect online maps, and I’ve experienced them as well — the most dramatic one being when I designed maps to be printed up in directions for my brother’s wedding rehearsal dinner — sending everyone the wrong direction on a long road.

Aside from a great many technical reasons for map errors, transitory route impediments further complicate navigation. Construction, wrecks, floods, avalanches, rock slides, hurricanes and other events can render maps unhelpful for varying periods of time.

In the past, the issue of erroneous maps has been so widespread that some major online map providers I’ve known have actually removed or buried their contact information so that consumers cannot complain about map inaccuracy.

Google Maps has taken a different approach, providing a link at the lower corner of their maps to enable people to report problems. If they have an effective means of taking that user-generated data into account to improve maps, it could result in some of the most accurate maps online. However, there’s complexity involved in taking user recommendations, too. For instance, one can’t trust just a single person reporting a problem, but if multiple people report the same problem, that could provide sufficient verification that something needs to be changed.

Have you experienced a problem with a Google Map? Have you reported an error in Google Maps? If so, how long did it take for the correction to be made?


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3 Responses to “When Google Maps Fails”

  1. Not specifically for Google Maps, but some person that lives near me put up “YOUR GPS IS WRONG. THIS IS A PRIVATE DRIVE.” Guessing they’ve had more than one person down there blaming GPS / Google Maps / Mapquest.

  2. Mr Data says:

    I have noticed that Google doesn’t take their error form and FORUMS seriously enough. 🙁
    There are so many topics that go unheaded.

    When I look up street adderesses in news stories I often find that the actual street dosen’t seem to exist on Google Maps/Earth and I sometimes have to hunt for it by hand or just shrug my shoulders.

    I also have noticed that sometimes viewing Google Earth street view freezes after clicking on the farthest end photo after a short while.

  3. Kate says:

    Will it ever be possible to hold anyone accountable for ongoing atrocious non-updating of GPS??