Rico’s TICO BULL – The district south of downtown and alongside San Francisco Bay known as either Rincon Hill, South Beach or South of Market this spring, was suddenly rebranded on Google Maps to a name few had heard: the East Cut.

A district south of downtown San Francisco was long known as Rincon Hill, South Beach or South of Market. This spring, it was renamed on Google Maps as the East Cut, a name that has spilled into the physical world.CreditChristie Hemm Klok for The New York Times

The peculiar moniker immediately spread digitally, from hotel sites to dating apps to Uber, which all use Google’s map data. The name soon spilled over into the physical world, too. Real-estate listings beckoned prospective tenants to the East Cut. And news organizations referred to the vicinity by that term.

The swift rebranding of the roughly 170-year-old district is just one example of how Google Maps has now become the primary arbiter of place names. With decisions made by a few Google cartographers, the identity of a city, town, neighborhood or even a border between countries can be reshaped.

Illustrating the influence that Silicon Valley increasingly has in the real world, in 2010 after Google misrepresented the boundary between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, it almost provoking an international incident.

The article “The First Google Maps War” by Frank Jacobs on February 28, 2012, explains how Google Maps almost cause a war in 2010.

How Google arrives at its names in maps is often mysterious. The company declined to detail how some place names came about, though some appear to have resulted from mistakes by researchers, rebrandings by real estate agents — or just outright fiction, says the New York Times.

In May, more than 63% of people who accessed a map on a smartphone or tablet used Google Maps. Google said it created its maps from third-party data, public sources, satellites and, often most important, users. People can submit changes, which are reviewed by Google employees.


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