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Google has a strange sense of timing, or perhaps a complete lack of coordination. Not long after company chairman Eric Schmidt visited North Korea to pontificate on the value of the open internet in one of the world's most closed-off nations, Google poured a new batch of crowdsourced data into Google Maps, including the locations of some of the totalitarian regime's prison camps, which the app identifies matter-of-factly as "Gulags."
Perhaps Schmidt was borrowing a tactic from Tony Soprano, dangling a tasty carrot in front of a desperate nation and its isolated leadership before whacking it in the backside with a harsh stick in the form of geodata from its crowd-powered Map Maker app.
For the record, Google claims the timing of the Maps update was a mere coincedence, noting that much of the data has been in the system for years.
Regardless of the geopolitical implications, it's good to see a volunteer-based Google crowdsourcing project being used to shine some light on one of the darkest corners of our world, especially after my recent editorial highlighting some of Google's less obvious crowdsourcing efforts.
"Creating maps is a crucial first step towards helping people access more information about parts of the world that are unfamiliar to them," writes Google's Jayanth Mysore. "While many people around the globe are fascinated with North Korea, these maps are especially important for the citizens of South Korea who have ancestral connections or still have family living there."
A look at the before and after photos of Pyongyang show just how dramatic the additions from Map Maker are:
- Eric Mack is Managing Editor for Crowdsourcing.org. He has covered business, technology and politics for more than a decade for major outlets including CNET, CBS, AOL, NPR, Wired, and the New York Times. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter and Google+. Also be sure to follow Crowdsourcing.org on Twitter and join our Crowdsourcing community on Google+.