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Google Maps Lambasted in Scotland for Suggesting ‘Potentially Fatal’ Route Options to Hike Ben Nevis

Mountaineering charities in Scotland have welcomed Google’s decision to investigate the routing issue at Ben Nevis, one of the most popular destinations and the highest mountain in the area. The tech giant’s response came after The John Muir Trust and Mountaineering Scotland warned hikers against relying too much on technology to navigate through the mountains, and lambasted Google for suggesting “potentially fatal” routes to Ben Nevis. They have also expressed concern over the increasing number of hikers using mapping apps to hike Ben Nevis. Depending on how people search for the route on Google Maps, it directs them to the nearest car park to the summit, which is Steal Falls, the Trust said.

However, for walkers the route up Ben Nevis “starts from the Visitor Centre”, the charity said, adding that despite putting up a sign directing people, many often “overlook” the directions. Responding to the concerns, Google said, “We built Google Maps with safety and reliability in mind, and are working quickly to investigate the routing issue on Ben Nevis.”

Heather Morning, Mountaineering Scotland’s Mountain Safety Adviser, reportedly said that it was perfectly logical for those new to mountain walking to check Google Maps for navigation. However, when they run a search for Ben Nevis “and click on the ‘car’ icon, up pops a map of your route, taking you to the car park at the head of Glen Nevis, followed by a dotted line appearing to show a route to the summit”, the John Muir Trust quoted Morning as saying in a post.

Even the most experienced mountaineers would find following that route difficult, Morning said, because it passed through a very “steep, rocky, and pathless terrain” where it would be challenging to find a safe line even in good visibility, let alone in the dark. Morning added that if one added “low cloud and rain”, the route suggested by Google Maps would be all the more dangerous.

Furthermore, Morning said that though it’s easy to assume that all the information on the internet was up to date and safe, that wasn’t the case, because “there have been a number of incidents recently where following routes downloaded off the internet have resulted in injury or worse”.

The charities advised people thinking of hiking Ben Nevis, or any other hill or mountain in the area for that matter, to also seek the advice of local guides instead of just relying on maps.

It’s Google I/O time this week on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast, as we discuss Android 12, Wear OS, and more. Later (starting at 27:29), we jump over to Army of the Dead, Zack Snyder’s Netflix zombie heist movie. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

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