8 Oct 2020

More farmers say Google Maps sending drivers over tracks

6:16 pm on 8 October 2020

Farmers sick of shooing intruders off their properties are demanding answers from Google - but the tech giant won't say exactly how it came to list their private tracks as roads.

No caption

Farmers say drivers are being sent up farm tracks and races by bad information on Google Maps. Photo: RNZ Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

In a Google Maps update rolled out in July, it concedes a number of driveways and private tracks have been listed in 'error', despite not appearing on council or LINZ records.

Whangarei farmer James Buckland said he had made many attempts to get his 2 kilometre driveway removed from the app with Google's Report a Problem tool.

He said it was disconcerting not knowing who might be up the back of his property with guns, or bringing dogs near his livestock.

"These dogs roam around searching for pigs. And we've got children on our farm, we've got neighbours with children, we've got pigs in a pen and ducks and all this sort of thing, and dogs aren't particularly discriminating," he said.

In Eureka near Hamilton, Google Maps had been directing travellers, truckies and tradies on a shortcut which Fiona Hastie said was her private farm track.

She rang the Transport Agency and Waikato Regional Council to get it removed, but because it isn't a road, they told her they couldn't do anything.

Hastie said two weeks of near-daily requests to Google through its Report A Problem tool also went ignored, so she resorted to installing a gate at one end.

That had created even more problems.

"Someone came through in the middle of the night and the gate was locked. They had to reverse a kilometre to get out. Just near the end they managed to reverse into a drain then they had to get out to get help," she said.

"That person wasn't hurt, but they shouldn't have been there in the first place, and we don't really want anyone to get hurt. At the other end of the farm they might come across a tractor coming out of a shed with its forks up."

RNZ contacted Google New Zealand and a spokeswoman conceded that sometimes, "errors do happen" and encouraged people to use its 'Report a Problem' tool.

"In July we rolled out new base map data for New Zealand to improve overall map quality in the long term. Big changes like this always come with a bit of risk and it looks like this might be a case of teething troubles in the changeover. We're working hard to fix the issues and have already corrected road restrictions at a number of farm sites."

Google said it used a "variety of sources" to get the most accurate and up to date information on the map, and a combination of manual and automated techniques to check for accuracy.

It said any mistakes were fixed as quickly as possible.

Hastie wanted to know why the Report a Problem tool hadn't worked for her and exactly how the mistake on her property happened in the first place.

"Is it because we drive around our farms with our phones in our pockets?"

Wedged between two No Exit roads, Lewis Brown's Whangarei farm had also become a public thoroughfare, despite him tacking up Private Property signs.

He wanted Google Maps to take heed of official records.

"Perhaps just have a better look and compare to the council maps or the maps from LINZ [Land Information New Zealand] as to what roads are roads and what roads are farm tracks, even though they look similar on a satellite picture."

Hastie said it was time for legislation to ensure all maps that include roads use official sources.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs