Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Law of Unintended Consequences

From Haaretz.

Israeli town sues Google over claim it was built on Arab village
By The Associated Press

The northern town of Kiryat Yam is suing Internet giant Google for slander, a local official said Monday, because a feature of its worldwide map service shows the town was built on the ruins of an Arab village.

The dispute brings together two controversies, one old and one new. Officials from the town deny they displaced Arabs during the War of Independence, and Google is defending the practice of allowing any surfer to change information in its files.

Kiryat Yam is a town of 40,000 on the Mediterranean coast just north of the port of Haifa. An entry on Google Earth, a feature that allows users to zero in on locations around the world, alleges that the town was built on the ruins of Ghawarina, an Arab village.
Kiryat Yam was pulled into the dispute when a Google Earth user, Thameen Darby, inserted a note on the map saying it was built on the location of Ghawarina. Darby has inserted at least 10 such notes over Google's map of Israel.

"Kiryat Yam filed a slander complaint with Israel's police," said town official Naty Keyzilberman. "This obviously cannot be true, because Kiryat Yam was founded in 1945, he said, explaining the police complaint."

Darby, 30, a Palestinian doctor raised in the northern West Bank town of Jenin, said his mother was a refugee from to the village Balad al-Sheikh near Kiryat Yam. He said his contributions to Google Earth are part of the Nakhba - Palestinian Catastrophe information hub aimed to help displaced Palestinians understand their heritage or find the villages of their parents or grandparents.

"As far as I can know, the Arab Ghawarina locality was in the place depicted," Darby told The Associated Press. He noted that he may have not marked the exact location and "if proven wrong by reliable sources, I will be quick to reallocate it."
Asked to respond to the police complaint, a Google spokesman said Google Earth depends on user-generated content that reflects what people contribute, not what Google believes is accurate. The spokesman would not give his name, in keeping with company policy.

The spokesman insisted that the altered map is not illegal, and Google's
policy is not to remove such postings.

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