In the early part of November 2010, errors made by Google almost caused a war in Central America and North Africa. In the Central American incident, a Nicaraguan military commander used Google Maps for border positioning. As a result of the error on Google Maps, the commander pushed his troops into the border of Costa Rica and raised the Nicaraguan flag. Since Costa Rica has abolished its military, the country responded by sending a heavily armed police force to the area and the Costa Rican government is calling the move an invasion. The Organization of American States will mediate and propose a solution to the border conflict, which both nations have rejected.
Google almost caused a war off the coast of North Africa as well. A tiny island off of the Moroccan coastline has been disputed for several years by the Moroccan government and Spain. In fact, the two nations almost went to war over the island in 2002. Google almost caused a war between the two governments by attributing the island to Moroccan authority.
The Google incident is not the first time that war has been threatened due to a technological error. On Nov. 24, 1964, which was only one month after the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US Strategic Air Command (or SAC) headquarters lost contact with its three Ballistic Missile Early Warning Sites (or BMEWS). Because the system was believed to be redundant and the communications loss to all three sites would be a monumental coincidence, all SAC bases in the US were alerted and nuclear bomber planes were started with engines running. The communication failure was caused by an overheated motor. All stations were down due to the fact that lines to all three sites’ communications ran through a relay station in Colorado.
Another technological blunder that caused great diplomatic tensions was the BGN website typo of 2008. In July 2008, a classification error on the Interior Department website inadvertently listed a group of islands in the Sea of Japan as “undesignated sovereignty.” The islands were in fact part of the South Korean government and had been disputed for some time by Japan. Once the change was recognized by the Korean government, it was immediately believed the US had changed its stance regarding the sovereignty of the islands and got the US involved in a very delicate political situation that ultimately required presidential intervention to allow continued negotiations between the South Korean and US governments.
As technology grows and becomes more and more a part of everyday life, the controllers of that technology have to be aware of what a powerful weapon they wield. Google is practically a household name now, and I believe the world understands that when a company that deals in communication (and make no mistake, the Internet is all about communication) that company has a global obligation to ensure the quality and accuracy of what it distributes. If companies don’t heed these warnings, the next time lives may be lost.