While travelling through Emalahleni, Mpumalanga as part of MyBroadband’s country-wide network testing project, we hit a peculiarity in Google Maps.
Where Google Maps showed an entire neighbourhood, where we could test the network coverage, there was nothing but dirt tracks and veld.
The incorrectly-mapped area is labelled part of Hoëveldpark, a small suburb of Emalahleni which Google Maps thinks is much larger than it actually is.
A nearby extension to a suburb called Riverview AH even contains a data point for a Witbank SPCA, but there is no apparent way to get to it in the real world.
The area is also not mapped for Google Street View.
Historically, cartographers have placed fictitious landmarks, places, and streets on maps as copyright traps. Even whole towns have been falsified on certain maps, becoming known as phantom settlements, or paper towns.
If one map maker spots their paper town or made-up landmark on someone else’s map, they know their work has been copied.
Examples of paper towns include Argleton, Lancashire in the UK, and the towns Beatosu and Goblu in Ohio, USA.
There is also the example of Agloe, New York, a 1930s copyright trap which famously became a real town in the 1950s.
A shop called the Agloe General Store opened in the area, incorrectly believing it was the name of a real nearby town.
Google was asked if Hoëveldpark or the phantom extensions to other nearby suburbs were copyright traps laid by it or AfriGIS – its data partner for the area.
The company did not respond to questions.