Skip to main content

Google Maps 'loses' major Florida city

John D. Sutter
Sunrise, Florida, the "A" on this Google Map, is about 200 miles from Sarasota, which lies on the Gulf Coast.
Sunrise, Florida, the "A" on this Google Map, is about 200 miles from Sarasota, which lies on the Gulf Coast.
  • Google Maps "loses" Sunrise, Florida, for at least a month
  • Searches for the city turned up Sarasota instead, according to reports
  • Sunrise's mayor: "We woke up one morning and we didn't exist. ..."
  • The 90,000-person city is back on Google's maps this week

(CNN) -- It's home to 90,000 people, one of the nation's biggest malls, a National Hockey League team and, the city's mayor boasts, the first IKEA store in the state.

But, for at least a month this summer, Google's computers "lost" Sunrise, Florida.

People who searched Google Maps for the city were directed instead to Sarasota, Florida -- a place that, while an alphabetical cousin of Sunrise, is actually 200 miles away. No Sunrise business or addresses or phone numbers showed up. Even city hall and other public entities were strangely absent, according to reports on news sites, blogs and Google help forums.

Google says it has since fixed the "technical error," and if you searched Google Maps for Sunrise on Wednesday, you would find a healthy grid of streets, malls and parks on the far outskirts of Fort Lauderdale, where it's supposed to be.

But this week's fix didn't come until after public outcry.

Sunrise's mayor, Mike Ryan, said this is the third time Google has dropped his city off the digital map, which he says is unacceptable.

"I don't have any problem with the idea that mistakes happen," he said. "The algorithms they have to apply to understand what my search is are undoubtedly complicated. What disturbed us is that this wasn't the first time it happened."

When he heard of the most recent drop, he was in disbelief.

"I said 'holy cow,'" he said. "It felt like a bizarre novel -- that all of a sudden we disappeared. We woke up one morning and we didn't exist in the ether world."

Sunrise isn't the first city that Google Maps has misplaced. The blog Search Engine Land documented five cities -- La Jolla, California; Rogers, Minnesota; Wickliffe, Ohio; Woodstock, Virginia, and Imperial Beach, California -- that Google Maps has also lost and found.

The Mountain View, California, company did not respond to CNN's questions about those previous outages, nor did it provide details about the Sunrise case.

The company did say it had fixed the problem and that it strives to deliver "the richest, most up-to-date maps possible."

"We've built our map from a combination of authoritative sources, ranging from the U.S. Census Bureau to commercial data providers, and have used satellite, aerial and Street View imagery to help complete the map," the company said in an e-mail to CNN. "Overall, this provides a very comprehensive map of the U.S., but we recognize that there may be occasional inaccuracies that could arise from any of those sources."

Google added: "We're not able to share details about this specific issue, but technical errors are investigated and resolved on a case by case basis as quickly as possible since it is our goal to provide accurate and updated map data."

Search Engine Land, which follows the online search industry, writes that the lost cities may be related to the fact that Google recently started buying its map information from a different company. "It was just about a year ago that Google dropped TeleAtlas map data and started using those other sources for Google Maps. And yes, each of the cases of missing cities that are mentioned earlier in this article happened after Google changed its map data source," the blog says.

Google declined to respond to that allegation.

While the idea of a disappearing digital city may sound comical from afar, some people in Sunrise took the ordeal quite seriously.

Local business owners, for example, complained they lost revenue because people searching for certain types of businesses in town would skip right past them.

"My new customer Web orders is almost at zero," Sherry Tannozzini, owner of a local shop called Flowers from the Rainforest, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel before the problem was fixed.

"The revenues are down ... the people can't find us. They can't find the city mayor, they can't find the police department, they can't find a dentist, a plumber, a tire changer."

But some locals did have fun with the situation.

On August 18, when Tannozzini posted a complaint about the issue on a Google help forum, she used this as her snarky sign-off line:

"Sunrise Fl....... on the East coast of Florida."

Sarasota, by contrast, is on the west coast of the state.

The mayor also said he sent a map of Sunrise to Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

"It's because it was just so, frankly, absurd," Ryan said of his decision to send the map. "And we had already complained. I thought, I had to do something to draw attention to how absurd this was."

Mission accomplished.


Most popular Tech stories right now