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Technology Giants Google and Microsoft Invest in Rio de ...

Technology Giants Google and Microsoft Invest in Rio de Janeiro Favela Mapping

Technology giants have finally realized the existing market in the steep alleys where cars barely pass, and where electric power, water, sewage pipes, even cable TV, arrives by spontaneous generation – through the creative improvisation of its residents. In Rio de Janeiro, one quarter of the population lives in one of the 763 slums across

Favela de Vidigal, Vidigal Favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Technology giants have finally realized the existing market in the steep alleys where cars barely pass, and where electric power, water, sewage pipes, even cable TV, arrives by spontaneous generation - through the creative improvisation of its residents. In Rio de Janeiro, one quarter of the population lives in one of the 763 slums across the city. Favela residents total 1.5 million people, of which about 1.3 million have cell phones, half of them smartphones. Being connected, however, does not guarantee that these people can find the street where they live in Google Maps or Bing, programs from the respective tech companies, Google and Microsoft.

Remember that, until earlier this year, before the efforts of Mayor Eduardo Paes (PMDB) that were motivated by the World Cup, most of these localities didn’t have an official address or CEP (equivalent to a zip code), and most pathways were not baptized with an official name. Now, in addition to gradual improvements implemented by public companies, the two most powerful technology companies are dedicating themselves to placing these communities on the map and turning residents into consumers of their services.

Vidigal Favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The most ambitious of the plans, the Google project includes photographing all lanes at street level, so that images are included in Google Street View. Now the tours offered by Rio's favelas may soon have an online version. For local businesses, mapping is a rare opportunity to increase their visibility. Thanks to the use of collaborative platforms, which allow owners to register their establishments, you can find coffee shops, salons, markets and laundry services simply by using your cell.

The programs of both Google maps and Microsoft are free. The interests of these companies are, for now, to display advertisements and expand its user base. This becomes particularly interesting for emerging markets like Brazil, as the European Union and the US markets have already expanded to the possible limits. The initial focus of Google are the Rio slums of Vidigal, Rocinha and Caju.

In practice, the initiative has been championed by community leaders, such as associations and recognized NGOs like Afro Reggae, who named the project Tá no Mapa. These community leaders then recruit volunteers who travel by foot to capture the street view images. However, parts of the operation are still disturbed by criminals, in that there was once even an incident of theft of equipment mappers. And there is still the difficulty of naming roads never before recognized by the city. In this case, that means choosing the way they are popularly known or voting on suggestions from residents.

Rocinha Favela Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Another part of the problem is negotiating with Google and Microsoft. Community leaders complain of being offered a low value to command the execution of colossal tasks. According to the Wall Street Journal, which published a recent article on the subject, neither Google nor Microsoft would reveal how much they are investing in the mapping. Many of the residents feel that receiving complete and open records of the operation could be adequate compensation for this size of project and would thus make their lives a little easier.

How do you think this kind of investment will affect the favelas of Rio de Janeiro? What are your thoughts on Google and Microsoft mapping projects? Have they been useful in your community?

Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

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Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Nora grew up surrounded by the varied architectural styles and geographies of the Southwest U.S. After graduating from Middlebury College with a B.A. in Latin American Studies and Geography, Nora moved to Wash...

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