Spoiler alert: They don’t.
The New York Times reports that a nearly 170-year-old district south of downtown San Francisco locally known as SOMA (South of Market) was rebranded on Google Maps last spring as the “East Cut.”
Turns out people aren’t into it: According to a survey taken of 271 neighbors in the area, 90% of the participants reportedly disliked the name. Unfortunately, what’s done is done.
Since it hit the maps, the name change spread digitally, from hotel sites, to Uber, and into the real world. Real estate listings brought potential tenants to the “East Cut,” and news orgs belted it out across the airwaves.
Own the maps, own the districts
In May, more than 63% of people who accessed a map on a smartphone or tablet used Google’s maps.
That gives a few Google cartographers and their software (which arrives at place names based off of third-party data, public sources, satellites and users) a whole lot of sway.
And there have been issues…
Back in 2002 — as a side project — a Detroit city planner created a map based off his own local knowledge. In 2012, Google copied the planner’s map verbatim… even the typos.
For example, a district known for years as Fiskhorn was mistakenly copied as Fishkorn, and some residents and local businesses adopted the name.
Some of Google’s decisions have much heavier consequences, nearly provoking an international incident in 2010 after it fudged the boundary between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.