Why is Google’s Mapathon in hot waters in India? All you need to know

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By tech2 News Staff /  12 Aug 2014 , 13:18

Google’s Mapathon that took place in India last year has been caught up in a legal limbo ever since. From compromising our national security to facing CBI ire for ‘continuously polluting the web’, the mapping initiative has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Those who are wondering what the whole Google Mapathon India conundrum is all about, here’s everything we know so far.

Google Mapathon 2013 that took place in February and March invited users to add information about their local areas for Google Maps in India. Google at the time said Mapathon would serve to make more local information easily accessible to all users of the Maps service. The company had promised the top 1,000 mappers prizes in the form of tablets, smartphones and gift vouchers.

Needless to say, the main purpose of the contest was to map accurate geographical information in Google Maps for India. The controversy was first fuelled by complaints that the competition violated India’s cartographical laws and Google did not seek the necessary permission from the authorities.

The controversy was further fuelled when Google announced the winner of the competition Vishal Saini, who mapped the city of Pathankot.

Pathankot is extremely close to the border of India’s Jammu and Kashmir and what Pakistan calls Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). With three wars being fought there, there is the possibility of military installations around, states DemocracyChronicles.

Mapping sensitive areas
Mapping sensitive areas

Now, it makes sense that the government of India wouldn’t want anyone and everyone to know where those military installations are. The report further points out that ‘when Vishan Saini submitted his contest-winning map to Google, he included a large area labelled “Military Area,” according to Popular Science‘.

The report also noted that the “Survey of India creates and maintains maps to ensure that sensitive military installations don’t show up on maps for civilians. And, Google didn’t seek permission from the authorities before launching its competition.”

Here is a timeline of the controversy so far:

* In March 2013, it was BJP’s Tarun Vijay who raised the concern that Mapathon violated India’s cartographical laws, and Delhi Police began investigating whether the search giant did indeed violate Indian law. The complaint, which led to the investigation, was filed by the Survey of India, which said the contest was illegal and could even threaten national security.

* The Survey of India first contacted Google to intimate the company about the violation of rules and then filed a complaint with the police. RC Padhi, an official at the Survey of India, had then told Reuters. “We have to ensure that security is not compromised at any cost”. He also said that some information uploaded on Google Maps by Mapathon participants could be “sensitive“. The Survey’s complaint filed on March 25, 2013 at the RK Puram police station read, “Mapathon 2013 activity is likely to jeopardise national security interest and violates the National Map Policy. Citizens of the country, who are ignorant of the legal consequences, are likely to violate the law of the land.”

* In response Google had stated that the contest was in line with all the country’s lawsThe Times of India  had quoted a Google spokesperson as saying, “The Survey of India contacted Google regarding the Mapathon contest on March 22, and, as requested by them, we responded to them on March 25 and offered to meet them to discuss their concerns.” The spokesperson added, “We have not heard back from them… we are always available to discuss any concerns that they or other agencies might have regarding our programmes.”

* Soon, the Delhi Police wrote to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), requesting it to refer the Mapathon case to the CBI’s cyber crime cell. The CBI has been asked to look into the matter as the contest was a nationwide activity and it is alleged that sensitive information could have changed hands during the contest, encouraging citizens to plot out their neighbourhoods.

* The most recent report claims that Google has continued to “pollute” the web with classified material despite being warned against it. After registering a Preliminary Enquiry against Google for alleged mapping of classified areas, CBI has sought help of Survey of India to prove it.

* As the probe continues, Surveyor General of India Swarna Subba Rao alleged that the Internet giant did not refrain from mentioning classified site even after having been asked not to do so. He said, instead of desisting, Google “polluted the Internet” with the coordinates of classified locations on the map. “They (Google) have expressed their desire to meet me at some hotel but I have been firm of a meeting in office,” he said.

* Google has been tight lipped and hasn’t released any official statement yet. We’ll keep you posted as more details surface.


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