The exclusive story that we are publishing today is bizarre and some might say downright disturbing. flickr – one of the largest social photo hosting services decided to remove the maps of Israel from its site. Despite numerous e-mails and phone calls, Yahoo! – flickr's parent company – refused to comment on the issue. We bring you the full story.
***Updated story: flickr put Israel back on the map!***
Taking Israel off the map
Several weeks ago one of our long time writers, photographer Giora Pinhasi shared with us a bothersome discovery. As a long time user of the flickr photo sharing service he discovered that not too long ago the old maps of Israel (which used to appear on the site, although being relatively old and inaccurate) were removed completely. Only the names of 3 major cities got left – the rest – including cities, towns, villages and streets were all removed leaving practically a blank map of the entire country.
flickr – Israel no longer on the map
Pinhasi decided to contact flickr himself and try and find out if this is simply a technical glitch. After speaking with one company representative who did not supply any answers he was referred to flickr's costumer service which simply did not answer.
It's important to understand that beyond the principal matter, there is also a strong element of costumer care (or lack of) with the entire story. Israeli flickr users such as Pinhasi and many others simply can't use flickr' Geotagging service on their pictures and this is also true for tourists and anybody else taking pictures inside Israel.
Jordan – all the street names appear in Amman
If you take a closer look at the flickr map service you actually realize rather quickly that the maps used are not those of flickr (or Yahoo! for that matter – which suffer from the same issue) but are actually "powered by Nokia". The Finish mobile giant has a map service known as Nokia Maps (very similar to Google Maps and other online street mapping services) which covers (almost) the entire world. However as you can see when looking at the maps on the Nokia site – Israel is completely blank (apart from 3 major city names).
Digging a bit deeper we realized something even more strange. flickr map service also uses an open map service called Leaflet (you can see the link on the lower right corner of the flickr map page). Leaflet uses a map database from another site called openstreetmap.org which – to our great surprise – actually does have very detailed street maps of every city in Israel…
Tel Aviv on the openstreetmap.org – every street is present – did flickr/Nokia took them out on purpose?
Not the first time
This is not the first time international companies set up "virtual borders" for Israel. In 2011 facebook decided that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine (something that was eventually changed after pressure from large groups of facebook users and official Israeli representatives). A similar thing also happened with both Apple and the BBC during 2012. However this is the first time to our knowledge that the entire country was wiped clean from the map by a well known international company.
When we here in MegaPixel first got the info about this story we decided to act and contacted Yahoo! – flickr's parent company in order to try and get some official answers. We were promised a response but after about two weeks of wait (including a direct phone call to Yahoo!'s headquarters and another failed promise for an answer) we decided to move forward with the article.
Our next step besides this article (which was published in both Hebrew and English) is to work hand in hand with our content partners on Israeli Channel 2 TV (MAKO/Keshet TV) to help spread the story.
A map of Tel Aviv in Google Maps – all the street names appear
The same map on flickr – everything was taken out
How you can help?
Want to help get Israel back on the map? Here are a number of simple things you can do which might have a big effect:
- Press Like and share the story with your friends.
- Publish and comment on the story on the Yahoo! page on facbook and the Nokia page on facebook.
- If you know journalists and people working for the international media send them the story and ask them to report on it.
- Have other creative ideas on how to spread the word? contact us and we will be happy to help.
We shall update this article with any new information.
***Update 1 (13.11.2012) The story has been picked up around the web:
- Did Flickr Delete Israel From Its Map? [huffingtonpost].
- Israel No Longer Appears On Flickr Maps [fstoppers].
- Flickr took Israel out of its Maps [gestetnerupdates].
- Did Flickr Eliminate Israel? [israelnationalnews].
- Flickr, Nokia et Yahoo rayent Israël de la carte…(French) [jssnews].
This also resulted in some interesting response from the relevant parties:
* A Yahoo! representative had this to say [on the The Huffington Post article]:
The geographical data that appears on Flickr and Yahoo! Maps comes from a third party map provider and we are working with them to understand and improve the gap in geographic coverage that has been reported. Yahoo! always wants to ensure the best possible product experience for our users, and this falls short of those expectations. We are continually working to source and roll out coverage where there is room to provide greater mapping details. In particular, we hope and expect that you will see improved maps coverage of Israel shortly.
***Update 2 (13.11.2012): The story had been picked up by Cnet which mentioned that Cyprus is also absent from the Nokia maps. They got the following response from Nokia Australia (regarding both countries):
Nokia has the world's largest maps and navigation platform, with voice-guided navigation for around 100 countries worldwide and maps available for over 190 countries and regions. As per Nokia's long-standing policy, we are committed to neutrality and impartiality with regards to political issues. While we currently do not offer maps for Cyprus, we work hard on refining and improving Nokia Maps continuously and make maps available in as many countries and regions as possible. Because of these efforts we are confident that we will be able to offer maps for Cyprus in the coming months.
Nokia has the world's largest maps and navigation platform, with voice-guided navigation for around 100 countries worldwide and maps available for more than 190 countries and regions. In order to guarantee our users the best experience when using Nokia Maps we aim for the highest possible quality standards when offering our service. Based on the available map data, we work hard on refining and improving Nokia Maps continuously and make maps available in as many countries and regions as possible. Because of these efforts we are confident that we will be able to offer maps for Israel in the coming months.
***Update 3 (13.11.2012): MegaPixel just got an official response from Pino Bonetti from Nokia Europe who told us:
What I can tell you [regarding when we shall see maps of Israel. I.G.] is that we want to provide high quality maps, built by professional cartographers and validated on site. This means that sometimes we need some time to process the data and publish it in our platform or apps. I can't comment much further because we usually don't comment on our roadmaps [but it should be out] Anytime soon
[As for why Israel had no maps so far] – We don't have any specific problem with any country: some require particular government approval, others have border issues that we have to take care with our longstanding neutrality, but at the end of the day we want to offer maps everywhere, it's our business.
[Regarding the possibility to use open source maps until the professional/official maps will be ready] – Good suggestion, in fact we are currently testing the Map Creator project at http://maps.nokia.com/mapcreator in select markets.
The geographical data that appears on Flickr comes from a third party map provider and we are working with them to understand and improve the gap in geographic coverage that you reported.
We always want to ensure the best possible product experience for our users and this falls short of those expectations. We are continually working to source and roll out coverage where there is room to provide greater mapping details. In particular, we hope and expect that you will see improved maps coverage of Israel shortly.
This is an English version of an article originally published on the Israeli Photography website MegaPixel.co.il