Google Map Maker for Pakistan: Support it or Oppose it?

Google Map Maker Community and FAST-NU’s ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) hosted an event on mapping and scope of mapping in Pakistan. The event named Lahore Mapping Party was first of its kind in Pakistan and was held in FAST NU’s main auditorium last week on Saturday.

Lahore Mapping Party - Banner

Lahore Mapping Party - Banner

As opposed to what I had expected, the attendees were only a few in numbers and were mainly comprised of students, professors, IT professionals, and people having a background in geography/architecture studies.

Reason of the event cum workshop was to actually aware & train people about Google Map Maker, host a discussion on crowd-sourced mapping and how local/international companies/organizations are using it and what is its scope in Pakistan.

Another reason was to acknowledge the efforts of two Pakistani youngsters who are recognized as the top mappers in the world. Faraz Ahmad with more than 48,000 edits holds the 1st place whereas; Jabran Rafique with more than 44,000 edits is also in the list of top mappers in the world. And also, to celebrate that Lahore is the fastest mapped city in a total of 120 countries where Google Map Maker service is available, and Islamabad is the cleanest mapped city (there’s not even a single error in mapping).

The whole idea is to promote this activity and involve others as well to be a part of Google Map Maker community in Pakistan.

Well when Google launched this Map Maker tool for Pakistan, I also did some mapping just to get my hands on what Google Map Maker is and does it really work or not. I made maps and it was fun playing with the tool quiet a year ago but I stopped doing it because I had some serious security and privacy reservations. This concern was one of the main reasons why I was so eager to attend this event.

Badar Khushnood, the country representative for Google, presented an overview explaining what Google Map Maker tool can do and how companies are leveraging it to promote their business and how can others use it in different other ways to promote different services or even play with APIs to make their own layers over the Google Maps platform.

Badar’s presentation was followed by Faraz Ahmed’s presentation in which he gave the live demo of map maker with other team members and shared his experience that how and why he started mapping on Google Map Maker. Then the floor was opened for questions and the discussion heated up over the security risks involved in mapping local areas.

Four main topics which were in discussion were security, ethics, profitability and ownership. Everyone had something to say and for me it turned out to be a healthy brainstorming session.

Security Risks

Security remained the main topic of discussion. Due to the growing security risks and threats in Pakistan it is natural for Pakistanis to make sure that they are not risking their own security. Some of the attendees were of the view that it will actually facilitate the extremists to make more sophisticated terrorist attacks against locals or law enforcement forces. The threats are not only from within the country but from over the borders as well. So the security issues must be addressed to clear the situation.

Others were quite optimistic about this tool. The map maker supporters responded that this tool will in fact help the government to take better security measures and to plan strategies to curb terrorism in the country (Think about having a security plan for Lahore keeping an eye on its entrance and exit points).

As a matter of fact, I don’t believe that most of the officials are really optimized to use such tools in a way that it helps in curbing terrorism and crime. But in any case if it is going to help those extremists, Google Map Maker is not a good omen for Pakistan.


Ethics in mapping is related to the security issues. It includes what to map and what not to map. Think of places like army bases in Pakistan, nuclear sites, borders, and other areas which may fall under national security.

First of all, I believe if it has to be mapped, then it must be everything; whether in Pakistan or in any country of the world. There should be no discrimination over security concerns at international level. Like if Pakistan army bases are to be mapped then why not American and Indian army bases as well.

It is nearly impossible to moderate each and everything being mapped. So, if there has to be a policy, the questions arise are who is responsible or have the authority to decide what is ethical and what is unethical? How many stake holders are there and how can all of them come to a consensus over a uniform policy for mapping Pakistan?

Usually governments regulate the policies regarding national issues and in case of Pakistan if government didn’t pay any attention timely, it would have been too late to make a policy. By government’s involvement I do not mean that there should be restrictions to mapping at all but government can work in conjunction with Google and supervise the process so that it remains beneficial and secure for everyone.

Profitability & Ownership

The point was raised by Dr. Anis Siddiqui, Chairman Department of Architecture, University of the Punjab, that who has the ultimate ownership of the data being produced voluntarily by the people. He was of the view that Google should have some revenue model for the people for doing the mapping because it needs resources and time which are valuable and this value must be converted in some sort of reward for them.

I believe if we ignore the security and ethics part, the value for the effort being put by these freelancers is much more than the effort itself. Imagine where you can use this tool to help you or your business. Think your PTCL’s limited 1217 directory converted and mapped on your screen with more comprehensive and updated information (Local Business Listings – where you find business around you), try finding your house on, see whether Wateen’s coverage is provided in your area, imagine getting traffic updates in real time, find a gas station near you, measure distance between your house and the nearest police station, get driving details to your destination and a hell lot of other things…

Google Maps: Lahore Before & After

Google Maps Lahore: Before & After

I would like to refer to the efforts put in by Khurram, Asst. Professor FAST-NU and Sarah Ahmad, lecturer Beaconhouse National University for presenting the possible ideas where Google Maps can be used. Updated local info, a new life to businesses, cheap & quick, SMS based white pages, value of getting info quickly, preservation data, geo coding & reverse urban planning, planning and Policy making help in generating demographics, housing variables, income statistics, economic zones and activity etc… were some of the directions presented by Khurram and Sarah.

I believe, if it actually matures enough to a point that we can use it for any product, it will prove a milestone in business and even it may change the way we do business today. I bet corporations have better plans and ideas to develop leverage Google Map Maker API.

Now about ownership, off course Google owns the data and they have the power to turn it off any time they want (you agree to terms & conditions before using their tool… try reading it). But Google provides an opportunity to download the maps to your local machine. In case if you want to volunteer but not for Google, there are a lot of other options to go for where you can help some non for profit foundation in mapping the whole world.

A Case Study

As I said earlier, I had serious privacy issues regarding Google Map Maker and that’s why I stopped using it. But I realized a much better use of this tool when I got the following message from my teacher. Please refer to the image below. It’s about three weeks ago and its self explanatory.

How can Google Map Maker work

Google Maps helped my teacher find an examination center I mapped.

The areas I mapped some months ago helped my teacher finding an examination center.  And this conversation happened about two weeks before Lahore Mapping Party.


In the end, I would like to finish saying that its all up to how any thing is used. It can equally be used for something constructive and for something destructive. So instead of just opposing it, I think we can volunteer to use this tool in a way that best suits our interests; both in terms of security and in terms of business.

Google Map Maker for Pakistan: will you SUPPORT it or OPPOSE it?

14 Comments so far

  1. Rafay (ralam) on January 9th, 2010 @ 9:24 am

    I was at the mapmaking part too!!

    I am fully for the use of Google mapmaker. No questions about it. Issues of ownership and security are just that, issues that we must work through and not allow to hamper the development of mapmaker.

  2. A for [pine]Apple (unregistered) on January 10th, 2010 @ 4:19 am

    Well if i can see dome of nuclear plants on google earth then what else do i’ve to expect… :)

    Google maps play pivotal role at least here in UK with street views and exact point to point mileage and alternate routes too … for me its the GIS that’s on my fingertips now :) SO i’m sure it’ll be helpful for people who are new to the city whether it be lahore, islamabad, karachi or any other.

    My two cents.

  3. Jabran (unregistered) on January 10th, 2010 @ 5:10 am

    Hi. Indeed a good post. I appreciate. I also have seen many posts over different blogs recently. Let me get back soon regarding some of these issues mentioned here that how we have already tried to handle them! It is indeed not just a patriotism move or race of being at top contributor list by just putting the lines over satellite imagery but its more than an effort to help our people to spend their daily life in better way. Cheers

  4. GISOSDeveloper (unregistered) on January 10th, 2010 @ 8:01 am

    Freelances put a lot of efforts into making data thus Google should allow community to download vector data. As of my knowledge Google is now allowing to download the vector data (Kenya only so far) in either Keyhole Markup Language (KML) or in ESRI Shapefileformat. Why limit it to a single country?

    An other option is to Consider Openstreetmap. One can download Openstreetmap data in XML format.

  5. Jabran (unregistered) on January 10th, 2010 @ 11:20 pm


    OSM is open source mapping product so there are no particular owner for data and can be used in any way one wants. While Gmaps map data download is available only for NGOs/non-profit organisations to use with registration following the terms. I think its never gonna happen if they will make it freely available for everyone. BTW its not only Kenya, this availability is currently for Africa & South-east Asia (

  6. Usman Latif (usmanlatif) on January 11th, 2010 @ 4:11 pm

    @Rafay: I agree to what you said. The point is we can’t ignore these issues.

    @AFPA: No doubt it is useful but still we can’t ignore the security risks. It must not be ignored at all. If they are already visible, they can be removed.

    @Jabran: You have already done a good job. I hope you consider the above issues as passionately as you seem for mapping Pakistan. Waiting for your response on what is your take on the above mentioned issues.

  7. GISOSDeveloper (unregistered) on January 11th, 2010 @ 6:37 pm


    “I think its never gonna happen if they will make it freely available for everyone” what do you mean by that?

    As far as Gmaps data availability for NGOs/non-profit organization is concerned, why Google do not put such a restriction when people create data? I mean if they gona make it available to selected organizations then only selected organizations should be able to create data.

    Yes your information is updated it is not only Kenya, I read this information in April and few months after that Google expanded it to few other countries, My BAD.

  8. uberVU - social comments (unregistered) on January 11th, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by LMB: Google Map Maker for Pakistan: Support it or Oppose it?

  9. shahid.saleem (unregistered) on January 21st, 2010 @ 7:35 pm

    HI, all of u help me . my e.mail

  10. A for [pine]Apple (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2010 @ 9:01 pm

    Oh and BTW who says Islamabad is the cleanest mapped city? In records is it? Islamabad’s mapping has lot of errors too … I don’t think its possible to map a city with no errors .. you’ll see lots of edits in there too :)

    BTW commendable post UL :)

  11. Usman Latif (usmanlatif) on January 23rd, 2010 @ 12:11 am

    @AFPA: I don’t know whether it is official but I do remember it was specifically mentioned by Badar Khushnood.

    He said something like, they (people at Google) did not find any wrong marking of any place in Islamabad. All the edits were clean and accurate.

    And thanks for appreciating.

  12. Jabran (unregistered) on February 1st, 2010 @ 3:17 am

    Talking about the Islamabad as cleanest city first of all; Saying this is more towards the technical terms of drawing maps instead visual mistakes made by users. That would mean, roads were drawn correctly, features were added subsequently and most of all that personal information was not added which also is not allowed at Map Maker and denied straight away during moderation anyhow. Personal information is kind of what you see an addition of features like “mera ghar”, “dost ka ghar” etc etc on google earth, wikimapia etc.

    Availability of vector data to normal users may not be possible because google by itself is a business company which is entirely based on their products. They already have this data shared in form of API mesh up etc where it can be used in creating amazing products anyway.

  13. Jabran (unregistered) on February 1st, 2010 @ 7:25 am

    @Usman Latif
    Quick reply regarding security and various issues as I just not been able to find time to write down the whole detailed note. Sorry about that but perhaps will be able to demonstrate on next event in future inshallah.

    First of all, we started mapping Pakistan only because while living in west we have seen the role of maps in normal daily life and its been to significant level. Finding an address, getting directions, local businesses information etc. that all makes it a must have thing for every state. Unfortunately, we have all time government which does nothing at all for public so its always the public who has to do everything for themselves. If in west, governments has put everything on public record then surely they have make sure of its security. While in Pakistan things are different and the security issues are very valid as raised. We mappers, myself and others did have all these concerns when started mapping back in 2008. We usually have discussion when we suspect anything which is not in a good cause for the country’s national security. Though we still believe that it is government’s job to make sure that state regulations are not breached and violators are under observation/control. There had been chances when terrorists/violators found guilty with official maps bought from sale centers of Survey of Pakistan (Department that controls the whole country maps and geological information even more correctly than google maps etc) and there had also been chances when google mapping products were found involved in planning certain violent acts. Perhaps these concerns (which are valid) raised at this particular time not because that google has involved local knowledge to get detailed maps but because google is more famous than other sources and publicly available to everyone. However, till now there had not been too many users from PK and the existing users have some sort of mutual understanding not draw any place which breaches the national security. Few of us old members are moderating whole country on daily basis and we have only found 3 or 4 edits which were then refused/removed and never been draw after suggested to the users. I think when talking ethical, it will be each and every user’s job to make sure that they are not advertising their own valuables inside their home so that the bad people don’t get their hands on it. However, at security measures, we concern that imagery displays every such point so clearly which should not be. As India has already been successful to ask google to blur satellite imagery for certain places and we have never seen any progress from our government regarding such issues. We also have raised certain issues with google already and they are still being in progress to some resolution. For example, one of those is the correct official map which should include Kashmir as disputed area with dotted border line when each country is selected but at the moment it is shown as part of India. We are also chasing google for having a domain for Pakistan Maps as they are quite rich now and being used more commonly than ever before. Local domain will increase the performance and accessibility for local users. We are also looking forward to a local business center where business will be able to enroll their-selves as in rest of the world it is. We also had been able to make sure that new state Gilgit-Baltistan emerges as soon as it was declared among that the changes in official names e.g. Rabwah, Nawab Shah etc..

    At the end I would like to say that its not been just woken up and straight to the drawing maps, at least not for us (most active users). If we had moved a step forward to help country progress then we also take a well care of its rights. Here are few links where we have raised issues for some enhancement in maps for Pakistan. Everyone can visit the group page and join discussion. Have your input even if you are not mapping. It will be helpful to have a guideline in various issues. Oh and the last thing about ownership etc. its all written in terms of services that everything drawn by any user will be intellectual property of google however if anyone wants then he/she can withdraw their contribution. Company is registered in US so it has to follow their rules which i think will make it sure that data will be withdrawn if desired by anyone.

    PS I am not defending google in any case, if anyone thinks. None of us on payroll of google. :) This all work is just to help out ourselves, our people and our homeland as the rest of the world do.


    AJK open for mapping
    Local domain
    Wrong maps excluding Kashmir
    Mapping ISPR etc
    Motorway/Highway enhancement

  14. Umair (unregistered) on October 7th, 2010 @ 11:35 pm

    Congradulations to Team google.

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