Google Maps links White House to Offensive Terms

John Lister's picture

Google has apologized for an ongoing quirk by which searching for racist terms in Google Maps brings up the White House. It's the latest in a string of embarrassing problems with the site.

The precise results users get on Google Maps depends on what they type into the search query, where they are currently located, and which location they are looking at on the map. At the time of writing, searching for an offensive term beginning with 'N' brought up the White House if you were already viewing a location in the Washington DC area. (Source:

Several other reports state that some variations on the term will bring up the White House regardless of the user's location and previous navigation. Both the Underground Railroad TV station in Chicago and the Jim Crow Museum in Michigan have also been showing up for related searches. (Source:

Google hasn't revealed the details of why such search results are showing up. It's only said that "some inappropriate results are surfacing in Google Maps that should not be, and we apologize for any offense this may have caused. Our teams are working to fix this issue quickly."

Edward Snowden Listed As White House Resident

The problem follows a recent bug by which Google Maps showed a dot marking "Edward's Snow Den" right in the Oval Office, a clear reference to former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden who leaked classified material about US spying.

That appears to have been caused by pranksters altering Google's business listings, which automatically mark local businesses on the map.

User Editing Program Suspended

Google has also had problems with a separate service, Google Map Maker. This allows users to add and edit map detail to update and correct it. The alterations are viewable to people who've chosen to view the Map Maker mode, but don't show up on the main map site until Google has verified the details.

After many years running the scheme, Google had to suspend user editing after a series of prank edits. The most notable was where somebody had purportedly drawn the shape of a lake but had in fact produced an image of the Android logo robot relieving itself onto an Apple logo.

What's Your Opinion?

Is Google doing enough to prevent malicious edits and people gaming its automated map systems? Is this a serious problem given presumably few people would normally search for such terms anyway? Do the benefits of user editing outweigh the drawbacks of the potential for pranks and malicious edits?

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