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Why Do Some Maps Include Fake Places?

Although rarely acknowledged, cartographers have surreptitiously placed fictitious streets and towns into their maps for years for one purpose: To catch someone who might want to co-opt the information, and thereby violate a copyright. Called “trap streets” or “copyright traps,” the misinformation can be anything from a twisty road that’s really straight, to a mountain range shown with incorrect elevations.

Now you see it, now you don't:

  • On the inside of its cover, a popular atlas for Athens, Greece, issues a warning to would-be copyright violators, telling them to watch out for trap streets in the driving guide.

  • A BBC show called Map Man, broadcast in 2005, claimed the London A-Z atlas contains about 100 trap streets. Apparently the guide's "Bartlett Place" is actually Broadway Walk.

  • The phony town of Argleton in northeastern England used to exist on Google Maps, complete with hotels and businesses. No one’s sure who set the trap originally, but Google wised up and eliminated the non-existent town in 2009.

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