In August 2016, Google came under global scrutiny for its representation of Palestine following the removal of the terms “West Bank” and “Gaza” from its maps. Google responded by stating that the names were removed due a technical bug and additionally asserted that it had never previously named “Palestine” on its maps. Furthermore, some critics have pointed to Google Maps as perpetuating the Israeli government’s refusal to recognize Bedouin ownership over certain areas of the land by leaving out names of Palestinian villages as well as prioritizing illegal Israeli settlement routes on its map.
In a context where land and ownership are highly contentious and inherently political, Google holds immense power as the largest source of digital geographic data in the world, to shape and legitimize certain interpretations of the physical world and the politics that underpin it. As this report will show, because human rights extend into the digital sphere, the ways in which this physical world is represented in online maps can even run counter to the exercise of the most basic and essential human rights. This report analyses the mapping practices of Google Maps in relation to the occupied Palestinian territories and how that helps form public opinion that serves the interests of the Israeli government, while simultaneously contradicting Google's responsibilities under international human rights frameworks.
This will be done by firstly summarizing the geographical and political situation of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and analyzing Palestinian villages and their representation on Google Maps, including Google’s route planning within these locations. Finally, the terminology that Google maps uses and its route planning in specific locations will be examined, before presenting conclusions and recommendations. The methodology used for this report is based on international human rights standards.
Despite countless attempts, a Google Maps representative could not be reached to comment on this issue. Although a few Google representatives initially agreed to answer questions about the issue, in the end, none of the persons at Google were actually available to comment.