Mapping and Data Pollution

You’ve seen this problem when using a GPS device on a highway.  You may be on the same road for 50 miles, but the system keeps changing the name of the road.  “In one mile, go straight on Officer Sanchez Highway.”  Then, 5 minutes later, “In 1/2 mile, go straight on Save the Fruit Bat Turnpike,” and you’ve been on Highway 15 the whole time.

Sometimes the names are legacy names that identify roads that were combined into your highway.  Other times they are honorific names assigned by politicians who thought they’d found a nearly free way to capture public sentiment or grant a favor.  But your GPS keeps hinting at the confusion and distraction caused by polluted map data.

The other night, within a beer of my legal driving limit, I called an Uber cab to get me home.  Pulled out the phone, entered the address (e.g., 2000 Main Street), checked it twice and then requested a car. 

About a minute later Dennis called, asking where I really wanted to be picked up.  He said Uber had sent him an address that just didn’t exist in the city (e.g., 2000 Mother Theresa Highway – yeah, this is a made-up example name, but the story’s true ).  I told Dennis Main Street, he picked me up and as he drove me back he told me that 20-30% of Uber pickup addresses are wrong, screwed up by the system and not the requestors.

The next day I looked up 2000 Mother Theresa Highway, the address Dennis had received.  Google Maps pinpointed it at 2000 Main Street.  There was no Mother Theresa Highway anywhere close.  It turns out that Mother Theresa Highway is an overlay name for Main Street, and nobody has known it as Mother Theresa Highway for at least 50 years.  But the public records haven’t been cleaned up, so Google  Maps is polluted, and until it is cleaned up taxi drivers will keep going to wrong addresses or having to manually verify pickup points identified by the place that organizes the world’s information.