Google Whitewashes the Tourist Experience, Will Erase Favelas From Rio Maps

Brazil's sprawling favelas—dangerous shantytowns that are home to hundreds of thousands of people—understandably don't look so good to tourists who spot them on Google's maps of Rio de Janeiro. So following a series of complaints from city officials, Google has agreed to amend its maps to make the slums less prominent, a fascinating move that suggests just how much power a digital map can have (or how much power we think it can have) when it comes to influencing the spirit of a place. Here's the BBC News with more details:

Favelas, sprawling shanty towns which are home to tens of thousands of people, are a defining feature of Rio.

But the Globo newspaper said their labelling on the map and the absence of wealthier districts and tourist sites gave a bad impression of the city.

Google told Globo it would change the way the information was displayed.

When viewed in a large-scale format, the maps of Rio pinpoint several of Rio's more than 600 favelas, including some of the less well-known ones.

The middle class neighbourhood of Cosme Velho - where tourists take the cable car up to the famous statue of Christ - is not labelled, but the smaller Favela da Villa Imaculate Conceicao is.

Sugar Loaf mountain is also not marked and in Humaita, the favela area is labelled in the same size text as the entire district.

Globo warned earlier this week that the map gave a "false impression that the urban area is nothing more than an immense cluster of favelas".

"The maps turn Rio into a favela," one resident of Humaita told the paper. "Anyone who doesn't know the city would be frightened."

Antonio Pedro Figueira de Mello, special secretary of tourism, said the maps were "absurd" and that Google had turned down a request in 2009 that they be changed.

Read the full story at BBC News.

Presented by

Daniel Fromson, a former associate editor at The Atlantic, is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He writes regularly for The Washington Post. His work has also appeared in Harper's Magazine, New York, and Slate.

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