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Google removes Maps targeting Thai dissidents and activists

Custom maps are now being used as political weapons.
BANGKOK, THAILAND - JANUARY 25: Police tape is put in front of a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn ahead of a pro-democracy demonstraiton lead by Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak on January 25, 2021 in Bangkok, Thailand. Parit and other leaders of the protest movement gathered at the headquarters of the company that is the local producer of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine to demand transparency, (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)
Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images
Jon Fingas
Jon Fingas|@jonfingas|June 29, 2021 11:25 AM

Custom Google map data is supposed to help you document history or set up custom tours, but it's now being used as a political sword. Reuters has learned that Google took down two My Maps creations that listed names, photos and addresses for "hundreds" of Thai activists that allegedly oppose King Vajiralongkorn and the monarchy. Both maps violated company policies, Google said.

The creators, including royalist Songklod Chuhenchoopol, said the maps were intended both as "psychological" warfare (that is, intimidation) and to help report political dissent. The information was publicly available, Chuhenchoopol said, but that hasn't placated human rights campaigners — they see it as a doxxing campaign that could lead to violence against the people on the list.

The Thai government hasn't yet commented on Google's removal.

Google's removal might have come too late when the map received over 350,000 views. It does serve as a warning, though, and suggests that custom mapping tool developers will have to be vigilant going forward. It doesn't take much to turn this online convenience into a hit list.

Google removes Maps targeting Thai dissidents and activists