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Google Maps mishap leads to Nicaragua inadvertently invading Costa Rica

In a tactic that could be used by military leaders around the world, Nicaragua has excused its army from setting foot on a neighbouring country's soil by saying it was Google's fault.

A Google Maps mistake led to Nicaragua mistakenly invading Costa Rica, which makes driving your car into a ditch after blindly following your sat-nav seem a little less serious.

The Nicaraguan armed forces were accused of setting up military camps on Costa Rican soil, raising the flag of Nicaragua and destroying a protected forest, La Nacion reported. Former commander Eden Pastora blamed the incursion on Google Maps, saying the border between the two Central American countries was different to that marked on official documents.

Google Maps was used during a military operation to clean the San Juan river, to make sure temporary camps were pitched on Nicaraguan soil. Oops. Costa Rica doesn't have a permanent standing army, which is probably just as well.

In a blog post Google admitted to the mistake, saying there was an error in the source data supplied by the US Department of State, a mistake of up to 2.7km. It now has a corrected version, and is working to update the maps.

"It is our goal to provide the most accurate, up-to-date maps possible," said Charlie Hale, Google geo-policy analyst. "Maps are created using a variety of data sources, and there are inevitably going to be errors in that data. We work hard to correct any errors as soon as we discover them."

To be fair to Google, this area, centring on the mouth of the San Juan river, has been hotly disputed by the two neighbours since the mid-19th century. The feud has now reignited, but you can't blame the company too much if it received bad information.

It must have been embarrassing though, to find out that had the mapping correct, and consistent with the official maps of both countries. You can see Microsoft using that in its promotional literature -- go Bing, avoid military embarrassment!

The incident shows that mapping technology is fine, but sometimes it can go wrong if you don't use your own judgement. In the UK, it's unlikely that full-scale warfare will result, but it could end up in people driving themselves off cliffs.

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