Google Maps redacts Vietnamese flag from Spratly Islands

By Viet Tuan, Luu Quy   July 11, 2023 | 04:37 pm PT
Google Maps redacts Vietnamese flag from Spratly Islands
A screenshot of a satellite image showing the Spratly Island, part of Vietnam's Spratly Archipelago.
A Vietnamese flag atop Spratly Island appears blank white on Google Maps, with the all-seeing tech giant saying the flag cannot be seen due to "low-quality image."

When users accessed Google Maps satellite images on Tuesday morning, they reported that the rooftop of a building on Spratly Island, part of Vietnam's Spratly Archipelago, appeared white while in reality it was built as an image of the Vietnamese flag made from ceramics.

The phenomenon was also observed on Google Earth Pro. According to map data, the image was updated on March 14, 2022, and was provided by Google partners. An older version of Google Maps had previously displayed the image of the Vietnamese flag.

The image of the flag was ceramic artwork created in 2012 by artist Nguyen Thu Thuy. The idea was for people to observe the flag from above, whether on planes or satellite image services like Google Earth. The artwork spans 310 m2 and is made of 310,000 pieces of ceramics.

Some Internet users have suspected that Google altered the image, and many are even threatening to boycott the brand.

A Google representative said the satellite image, which was provided by third parties, was not altered in any way.

"Issues regarding the current image are due to low-quality image. We are performing necessary steps to replace it with an image with better quality," the representative said, adding that the fix is expected to be done next week.

Le Quang Tu Do, head of the Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information, said authorities are aware of the incident and are asking Google to solve the problem.

Last year, Apple also had to include Vietnam’s Spratly and Paracel islands on Apple Maps upon request by Vietnamese authorities.

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