Google Maps isn't just a navigational tool -- it's also something of a magic mirror, reflecting certain parts of the world differently to different viewers.
For example, if you live in India and do a search for Kashmir, you'll find the mountainous region clearly designated as part of India. But leave the country and take another look, and the dark border surrounding Kashmir becomes a dotted line, indicating that Kashmir's ownership is in dispute.
This is how the world's biggest search engine works to get around the fact that Kashmir has been a disputed territory for more than seven decades, claimed by both Pakistan and India.
It's also how Google tries to have universal appeal for every user. The same kind of ambiguity can be found elsewhere. Take the Sea of Japan, for instance. That's the name most Google Maps viewers will see when looking up the body of water that separates South Korea and Japan. However, if you cross the border into South Korea and take another look, the body of water's name becomes the East Sea, which is what South Korea has demanded it be called since 1992.
For its part, Google says it doesn't take sides and is doing its best to give map viewers an accurate picture based on their local government's perspective. "We remain neutral on issues of disputed regions and borders, and make every effort to objectively display the dispute in our maps using a dashed gray border line," Ethan Russell, director of product management for Google Maps, said in a statement.
Mapping a new world:
- Google's "Street View" team has driven more than 5 million miles (8 million km) since the project to map every street began in 2007.
- For areas that can't be reached by car, Google uses snowmobiles, trikes, and even trolleys to get pictures.
- In 2005, scientists using Google Earth discovered a previously unknown area of northern Mozambique; it is commonly referred to as the "Google Forest."