Apple maps ‘could cost lives’

Apple’s mapping service has already come in for a fair amount of flak, but it has just received its most serious criticism to date.

Police in Australia are warning that mistakes on Apple maps could be life-threatening.

They say a number of people trying to find the town of Mildura, in Victoria, have become hopelessly lost in dangerously high temperatures.

Police in Mildura gave an example where one man was stranded for 24 hours in temperatures which got up to 46 degrees centigrade and at least three more have needed rescuing as a result of following directions given on Apple’s new maps, which replaced Google’s app on Apple phones. Rather than taking travellers into Mildura, the directions take them into the wilderness miles away.

The situation has got so dangerous, police have issued an official warning on their website about the problem. “Some of the motorists located by police have been stranded for up to 24 hours without food or water and have walked long distances through dangerous terrain to get phone reception,” says the police statement.

“We’ve had at least four documented cases,” said Stephen Phelan, who is a senior sergeant with Mildura police. “The map puts it at least 70 kilometres from where it should be. We have had people bogged down in sunset country.”

Apple’s mapping system has been a public embarrassment for the company since it dropped Google as its map provider in September, with Apple CEO Tim Cook being forced to issue an apology after problems quickly emerged with locations being either in the wrong place or missing altogether.

Users immediately flooded forums complaining that landmarks were in the sea rather than on land, major transport hubs had been missed out and towns were in completely the wrong locations.

But, this latest development puts the issue past being an embarrassment to something much more serious, potentially leaving Apple open to expensive lawsuits, especially if problems like this arise in the US.

Apple’s map data comes from a number of providers, including TomTom, although TomTom has previously issued a statement saying that it is not at fault.

So far, Apple has not commented about the problems in Mildura although police say they have contacted the Californian tech giant about the issue in a bid to get the town located in the correct place.

In the meantime, say police: “Anyone travelling to Mildura or other locations within Victoria should rely on other forms of mapping until this matter is rectified.”

In his original apology, Cook said his company had fallen short of its commitment to “deliver the best experience possible to our customers.”

“While we’re improving Maps,” he said, “you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.”

It looks like travellers to Mildura will certainly have to take Cook’s advice to use a different map.

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