Google renames the Persian Gulf

Turns out Google already had another cartographic controversy on its hands.

Earlier this week we learned of an Israeli city's slander lawsuit against the search giant based upon Google's refusal to remove a user-generated Google Earth notation that identifies the community of Kiryat Yam as Arab Ghawarina. A Google spokesperson told me that the notation violated no aspect of the company's terms of use agreement, no matter how much it violated the sensibilities of Kiryat Yam officials.

In this second controversy, however, Google does not have the "We didn't do it" card at its disposal. That's because Google itself has renamed the Persian Gulf.

They can do that?

Mother Jones blogger Justin Elliott explains:

The problem comes in the form of a letter to Google's CEO from the National Iranian American Council loudly protesting the inclusion in Google Earth of the term "Arabian Gulf" - along with the more common "Persian Gulf."

Only a few years ago, in 2004, Google's co-founders told shareholders that "focused objectivity" was a trait "most important in Google's past success" and "most fundamental for its future." But that was before Google Earth. And if the two complaints this month show anything, it's that a map is a highly subjective thing. Including "Arabian Gulf" was a classic hedge on Google's part, probably an attempt to strive for that ideal of objectivity. NIAC's letter, however, explains the term's somewhat untoward history:

You can read that letter here.

The group says that the National Geographic Society "made the same error" in 2004 and willingly corrected itself after NIAC complained.

Google has yet to reply to inquiries from Mother Jones.

Perhaps the programmers behind Google Earth should just pretend that the Middle East has dropped off the map altogether. Drastic, yes, but their lives would be made so much simpler.

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