Before the internet era, neighborhood names developed via word of mouth, newspaper articles and physical maps that were released periodically. But Google Maps, which debuted in 2005, is updated continuously and delivered to more than one billion people on their devices. Google also feeds map data to thousands of websites and apps, magnifying its influence.
In May, more than 63 percent of people who accessed a map on a smartphone or tablet used Google Maps, versus 19.4 percent for the Chinese internet giant Alibaba’s maps and 5.5 percent for Apple Maps, according to comScore, which tracks web traffic.
Google said it created its maps from third-party data, public sources, satellites and, often most important, users. People can submit changes, which are reviewed by Google employees. A Google spokeswoman declined further comment.
Yet some submissions are ruled upon by people with little local knowledge of a place, such as contractors in India, said one former Google Maps employee, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly. Other users with a history of accurate changes said their updates to maps take effect instantly.
Many of Google’s decisions have far-reaching consequences, with the maps driving increased traffic to quiet neighborhoods and once almost provoking an international incident in 2010 after it misrepresented the boundary between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
The service has also disseminated place names that are just plain puzzling. In New York, Vinegar Hill Heights, Midtown South Central (now NoMad), BoCoCa (for the area between Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens), and Rambo (Right Around the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) have appeared on and off in Google Maps.