RIP, Google Map Maker: Peeing Android leads to shutdown of community editing tool

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Remember the urinating Android that somehow made it into Google Maps? That unfortunate illustration was published, thanks to Map Maker, a crowdsourced editing tool for Google Maps. Intended as a tool to let users add points like landmarks, parks, and street names unreflected by Maps, recent publicity has made it the target of abuse by everyone from spammers to Edward Snowden supporters. In response, Google’s announced an indefinite shutdown of Map Maker starting May 12.

The decision wasn’t made lightly, Product Manager Pavithra Kanakarajan explained in the Google Map Maker Help forum. Edits in Map Maker previously relied on a automated and user moderation, but the Maps Maker team switched to a manual system following last month’s high-profile incident. The manual backlog has proven too hard for the team to keep up with. “We do not have the capacity to review edits at roughly the rate they [come] in,” she writes. “[We] have to take a pause.”

For edits on the verge of publication — a few of the many in a “very large backlog” — Kanakarajan warned it will take “a long time” before they’re reflected in Google Maps.

Before the recent hullabaloo, Google pledged in April to improve spam detection for Map Maker. The company also apologized for the recent spate of slip-ups, promising to improve “how we detect, prevent, and handle bad edits,” Google spokesperson Mara Harris told the Washington Post in a statement.

It’s not likely to be an easy fix, though. Nitricboy, the user apparently responsible for the Android graphic, uploaded the image in pieces to fool community moderators. A possible solution going forward is to disable batch uploads, or perhaps update Map Maker’s spam detection to look for multi-grid patterns. Whatever the course of action Google decides to take, though, the recent attacks all but ensure Map Maker, which amazingly went unassailed for years, will for better or worse never be the same.

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