Google has shut down its Map Maker service after a series of embarrassing oversights allowed vandalism – the most notorious example being an image of a Google Android robot urinating on the Apple logo.
The company said it had been moderating all user-generated edits to try to prevent such pranks, but found it impossible to keep up.
Visitors to the Google site were directed on Monday to a forum post that explained the site would be unavailable for editing until a solution could be found.
Pavithra Kanakarajan, a Google Map Maker product manager, wrote: “As some of you know already, we have been experiencing escalated attacks to spam Google Maps over the past few months. The most recent incident was particularly troubling and unfortunate – a strong user in our community chose to go and create a large scale prank on the Map. As a consequence, we suspended auto-approval and user moderation across the globe, till we figured out ways to add more intelligent mechanisms to prevent such incidents.
“All of our edits are currently going through a manual review process.”
Google introduced Map Maker in 2008 as a tool to allow users of Google Maps to edit the information on the service directly. While the majority of the mapping information is bought in from third-party providers, those providers fall short of universal coverage, particularly in some nations where location information is controlled by government regulations.
Users can use Map Maker to draw features directly on to the map, adding information such as roads, rivers, green spaces and built-up areas to the database, as well as local businesses and amenities. But while the information contributed by new users is pre-moderated, either by Google or by more experienced users, long-term users can make edits without much oversight at all.
It was one such user who prompted google to shut down the service, introducing a picture of the Android robot urinating on the Apple logo and a message saying “Google review policy is crap” to the map of the area outside Rawalpindi in Pakistan.
Google’s Kanakarajan added: “We have been analysing the problem and have made several changes. However, it is becoming clear that fixing some of this is actually going to take longer than a few days. As you can imagine, turning automated and user moderation off has the direct implication of very large backlogs of edits requiring manual review. This in turn means your edits will take a long time to get published.
“Given the current state of the system, we have come to the conclusion that it is not fair to any of our users to let them continue to spend time editing. Every edit you make is essentially going to a backlog that is growing very fast.
“We believe that it is more fair to only say that if we do not have the capacity to review edits at roughly the rate they come in, we have to take a pause.”
In the meantime, users with hankering to improve the state of mapping information in underserved areas are still able to make updates to the open-source OpenStreetMap project, a competitor to Google Maps that aims to free mapping data worldwide.
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