A Nicaraguan ex-commandant who used Google Maps to plan a military operation ended up accidentally invading a country.
The territory between Costa Rica and Nicaragua has been under dispute on and off since the mid-1800s, but the issue of where the boundary currently lies is not currently in dispute between the two countries—that is, until a senior military officer decided to log on and plan out his strategy using Google Maps.
When Commandant Eden Pastora took his 3,000 troops up to the edge of the border to ensure that bordering Costa Rica was respecting sovereign limits, he found Costa Rican flags all over the place, which his troops proceeded to remove in what amounted to an inadvertent invasion.
When Costa Ricans wondered what was going on and a local newspaper asked Pastora what the heck he was doing, he pointed to the Google Maps satellite view of the region, which had the border between the two countries in the wrong place.
How could such an operation possibly go wrong? After all, he had double-checked boundary locations on Google Maps! And as anyone who has ever used Google Maps can attest, they are never wrong! Well, except for that one time I ended up in a dark alley and there was a drug deal going on at the site where my Google Maps function on iPhone had listed the concert hall I was trying to find.
The accidental invasion prompted both sides to point fingers at Google, with a Costa Rican official declaring, “There’s a bug in Google. We sent a note to the company to fix the map.” Google responded with a statement acknowledging the error and ultimately blaming it on the data they had obtained from the US State Department.
So what’s the moral of the story? Don’t rely on the Internet for anything, let alone research related to a possible military mission. If you accidentally start a war because of faulty Google Maps, then one has to believe that it’s a slippery slope from there to the point of using Wikipedia for military intelligence gathering, Twitter for communications operations, and FaceBook for building a “coalition of the willing”—e.g., “I have 5,000 FaceBook fans on my “Turn the Middle East into a parking lot” page. Maxed out! Launch time!”
As the Costa Rican example shows, people have become far too accepting of the Internet as a valuable source of information rather than taking it for what it really is: A clearinghouse of crap and a garage sale of information in which you might possibly find a gem that needs to be appraised. Anything taken from anywhere on the Internet ought to be constantly questioned and double-sourced, especially if the consequence of not doing so is war—even if only in your own personal world.