INTERNATIONAL borders are often tricky to chart on maps. Tangible topographic features can be pinned down by satellite imagery but the boundaries between many states are unmarked and fiercely contested. Perimeters may be formed by rivers or roads but they may also cross mountains, deserts and war zones. Some borderlands have been fought over for hundreds of years and changed hands dozens of times. And some countries, such as India, which is embroiled in a number of territorial disputes, even have strict laws on where their boundaries must be depicted on maps. So how does Google Maps, the most heavily-consulted mapmaker, deal with disputed borders?

All maps are political constructions: even the most carefully drawn will betray some geopolitical bias. When traditional print cartographers are faced with questionable borders, they have a number of options, all of which require judgement from the mapmaker. Depending on the purpose and context of the map they may choose to mark a border with a dashed line or special shading to highlight the contention. They may show two borders, each reflecting a national claim with the disputed land in-between. Or they might choose to draw a definitive bold line, disregarding any territorial disputes or deliberately taking one side or the other. The Economist typically publishes several maps a week, often covering areas of disputed territory. In a map of Europe published on August 30th we depict Crimea with stripes of two colours, for example, to represent the territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia. Such decisions are under constant review. [Read more] – Michael’s Blog