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IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

Boundary news

Boundary news Headlines

Shifting boundaries on Google Maps

(17 July 2014)

A team of researchers documented how Google Maps draws borders of disputed areas differently depending on the location of the servers on which the map is viewed. The team included a visiting researcher at MIT, a graphics editor from National Public Radio, a web designer, and a web developer. They designed a software program to compare borders on Google Maps automatically and documented their findings for twelve disputed areas on a website called ‘Disputed Territories.’ Their project was part of a hackathon sponsored by the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project.

The website shows that when areas are viewed by servers in certain countries, boundaries that appear ‘disputed’ or provisional (dashed lines) may appear as solid lines, favouring the server’s host country. For example, when viewed on Russian servers, the map shows disputed territory in Crimea as Russian territory rather than Ukrainian territory.

Territories featured on the website include border areas between China and India (Aksai Chin, Arunachal Pradesh, Demchok, and the Tirpani and Bara Hotii valleys); India and Pakistan (Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, Siachen Glacier, Jammu and Kashmir); as well as the Shaksam Valley between China, Pakistan, and India. Other territories identified by the project include Crimea (between Russia and Ukraine); northern Bhutan (between Bhutan and China); the Pinnacle Islands (between Japan, China and Taiwan) and the Spratly Islands (between China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei).

The team of researchers noted that “the company can’t possible create enough maps to make everyone happy.” Ed Parsons, chief cartographer at Google, responded that Google had to comply with local regulations. “Some states having laws that require providers that operate in their country to display maps in particular ways,” he explained, and “the reality is that maps have always been a representation of the world view seen in particular parts of the world, we just have to correspond to that.”


Disputed Territories, 22 June 2014,

See how borders change on Google Maps depending on where you view them, 23 June 2014, By David Yanofsky for Quartz,

Revealed: how Google moves international borders, 24 June 2014, By Matthew Sparkes for The Telegraph,