Google Maps Error Causes Nicaragua to Invade Costa Rica

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on November 09, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Did Google accidently start a war? If they did, imagine the liability attached to that little mistake. It may not have actually been a war, but the Nicaraguan army relied on an erroneous Google Map and made a small incursion onto Costa Rican soil. The international boundary flare-up resulted in angry sniping from both governments and some finger-pointing at the Mountain View, California tech company.

There is evidently a long-disputed border between the two Latin American countries. Thanks to Google Maps, it bloomed into a flag-planting, gun-toting skirmish. According to Wired, Nicaraguan troops entered a town on the border with Costa Rica, lowered the Costa Rican flag and raised their own. In a statement that is surely a first in the long annuals of human warfare, the troop commander, Eden Pastora, said the invasion was not his fault. He blamed the troop moment on the Google Maps error which showed the area as being on the Nicaraguan side of the boarder. That's embarrassing.

Before you dismiss this incident as minor, picture a similar incident involving say, the U.S. and Canada, or any nation with a nuclear arsenal. In fact, although the U.S. borders remain firm (for now), a similar incident did take place earlier in the year, writes Wired, on the Thai-Cambodia border. Not to mention when Sunrise, Fla. inconveniently disappeared altogether from the Google version of the world as we know it. For reasons linked to business and marketing opportunities, the Sunrise city fathers were not amused.

Will all the finger pointing and border pushing actually lead up to legal liability? Imagine the whopping negligence suit that would result from an accidental invasion of one country on another. And what about the venue fight alone? Where would the case be heard -- the Hague? Costa Rican courts? State or federal court in California, where Google is headquartered?

Fortunately, difficult questions such as these will almost certainly never come before a court. Google has admitted its 2.7-kilometer mistake and has corrected it. Besides, the search giant has been punished enough. It turns out that the Microsoft map service, Bing Maps, had the border marked correctly all along. That's embarrassing.

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