By Patrick Lucas Austin
August 30, 2018

Map features in Snapchat and other popular mobile apps, including The Weather Channel and Citi Bike, referred to New York City as “Jewtropolis” on Thursday in what appears to have been an anti-Semitic act of digital vandalism.

Each of the affected apps uses mapping company Mapbox for their mapping features. Mapbox in turn relies partially on user-generated information, apparently opening the door to such attacks.

“Snap Map relies on third party mapping data which has unfortunately been subject to vandalism,” Snapchat said in a tweet Thursday. “We are working with our partner Mapbox to get this fixed immediately.” Mapbox also provides mapping data and services to companies like Uber, Foursquare, and Instacart.

Mapbox collects its own data and combines it with information from government-provided datasets and other commercial sources. It also lists community-led OpenStreetMap as one of its data sources when it comes to “streets, buildings, areas, water, and land data.” Mapbox’s website says it is “home to a dedicated OpenStreetMap data team” and claims it has an “automated quarantine system that detects changes to the map that look like accidental editing mistakes or vandalism and stages them for manual review by our data team.”

The map on OpenStreetMap’s own site does not include the offensive language seen on Snapchat and other apps Thursday morning. OpenStreetMap’s quality assurance guidelines call for changes to be reverted and investigated in cases of vandalism that “can be definitively proved to be malicious, obscene, libelous or it is considered that they might bring the project into disrepute.”

“Mapbox has a zero-tolerance policy against hate speech and any malicious edits to our maps,” Mapbox said in a statement Thursday. “This morning, the label of ‘New York City’ on our maps was vandalized. Within an hour, our team deleted and removed that information. The malicious edit was made by a source that attempted several other hateful edits. Our security team has confirmed no additional attempts were successful.”

Thursday’s episode is just the latest high-profile example of digital map vandalism, raising questions about tech companies’ reliance on user-generated cartography. Just this week, Washington, D.C.’s Russel Senate Office Building was briefly renamed to the McCain Senate Office Building on Google Maps after New York Sen. Chuck Schumer suggested the building, currently named after the racial segregation supporter and former Georgia Sen. Richard Russell, be renamed for the late Sen. John McCain. And back in 2015, a location called “Edward’s Snow Den” appeared on the same platform inside the White House.

Write to Patrick Lucas Austin at patrick.austin@time.com.

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