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Google accused of vandalising OpenStreetMap

But OSM admin dismisses claim as 'mountain out of tiny pimples'

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Google has once again been accused of underhand business tactics, this time by OpenStreetMap. The not-for-profit organisation published a light-on-detail blog post alleging that Mountain View was "moving and abusing" the mapping outfit's data.

However the very same post appears to have been completely debunked by an OSM sysadmin, who claims to have first uncovered the issue.

"Preliminary results show users from Google IP address ranges in India deleting, moving and abusing OSM data including subtle edits like reversing one-way streets," thundered the organisation that creates free editable maps.

"Two OpenStreetMap accounts have been vandalizing OSM in London, New York and elsewhere from Google’s IP address, the same address in India reported by Mocality," the group alleged.

As we reported last week, Mocality's CEO produced evidence that showed that his Kenya-based business listings startup had been misrepresented by Google employees who lied about their biz relationship with Mocality.

Now, OSM is making a similar claim, despite failing to provide any evidence to back up the allegation.

"The most obvious vandalism started around last Thursday last week from these particular users however it may take us some time to do a full analysis. In fact over the last year we have had over 102 thousand hits on OSM using at least 17 accounts from this Google IP," the org claimed.

The blog post was apparently joint-penned by OSM Foundation board member Mikel Maron, the group's founder Steve Coast and its system administrator, Grant Slater.

However, in the comment section of the post, Tom Hughes, who claims to be one of OSM's sysadmins, appears to dismiss the allegations.

"As the person who (in my role as an OpenStreetMap system administrator) first discovered this 'incident' let me start by saying that I consider this post to be grossly irresponsible and wholly inappropriate," he wrote.

Hughes' rant continued:

The board of OSMF are making mountains out of tiny pimples here. It seems that they want this to be some sort of organised corporate malfeasance on the part of Google which is why they have tried to link it to the recent Mocality incident where there was indeed clear evidence of such behaviour.

The reality in this case is that there is no evidence that this is any different to the numerous other incidents we get all the time where users either accidentally or deliberately make bogus edits. The only difference in this case is that there happen to be two accounts (though we do not know if that is two people) and the user or users involved happen to (presumably) work for Google.

That is the sum total of what we know, and on the back of that, and without approaching Google at all, two leading board members have decided to reveal personal information about two of our users.

It seems to me that this is just an attempt to get some cheap publicity by trying to like the project to the Mocality incident, and I cannot support such behaviour.

The Register asked Maron, Coast and Slater to clarify their claims and provide some evidence to help justify the allegation. However, no response was forthcoming at time of writing.

Google gave us this statement:

We're aware of OpenStreetMap's claims that vandalism of OSM is occurring from accounts originating at a Google IP address. We are investigating the matter and will have more information as soon as possible.

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