Google Earth and Caste Discrimination in Japan

With gratitude to Funmi Arewa for sending me this link, here’s an interesting story from the Times Online about an unexpected area in which Google has found itself in hot water.  In adding information to some modern day maps of Japan on Google Earth, Google engineers overlaid some old maps of Japan on the modern sattelite images.  This effectively shows how some of the old Japanese ghettos relate to modern 21st centry streets.  Unfortunately, it also provides a proxy that effectively allows prospective employers to guess on the ancestry of people who may be applying for jobs and to identify them as likely members of a caste considered as “untouchables” and condemned to the worst positions in the social and cultural hierarchy.  Google did not realize how offensive and problematic this data-driven action could be within Japan.  It’s a great example of how modern technology can clash with deeply ingrained cultural mores.

On another note, this is my last post for Concurring Opinions as I’m heading off tomorrow for my first long weekend vacation in (too) many years!  Thanks so much to Dan and the whole Concurring Opinions crowd for having me.  I hope to visit again sometime.  Happy summer vacation everyone…

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2 Responses

  1. Danielle Citron says:

    It was so great to have you. Your posts were so interesting! See you at PLSC!

  2. A.J. Sutter says:

    Regrettably, this is not an example of “how modern technology can clash with deeply ingrained cultural mores” but rather how it can facilitate some rather negative, albeit deeply ingrained, cultural mores. Discrimination against bukarumin and other groups is nothing new here (witness the anecdote about Aso and Nonaka in the Times article). Attention was called to the Google issue by a group of bukaru acitvists, not by a general public outcry.