LB Travels: Slovenia | Big Tech meets Little Hamlet

5 mins

What happens when the world arrives at your doorstep? This week, food for thought on what happens when Big Tech collides with private property rights.

If you happen to live in Melbourne—remember the good old Melways? I pulled one out of my car a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo of it (for memories’ sake) before it ended up in the recycling bin. There were also versions for a few other major cities, aptly named the Sydway and Brisway—and for all Australia, the Ausway.

If you lived in Victoria, the Melways used to be the Bible of roadmaps—that is until Google Maps came along. Of course, if you forgot to bring your car charger on a road trip, the Melways might come in handy. But rarely does it now have a place in our navigation. If you’d like a blast from the past, it is still possible to buy a 2020 version. They still produce them, believe it or not!

Google Maps (other minor players aside) is the incumbent force in street navigation. As long as you have an internet connection and GPS running on your mobile phone, then you’re good to go. It has revolutionised how we travel at home and overseas. Whether navigating a complex train the system in Tokyo or driving through Slovenian countryside in the middle of nowhere—Google Maps delivers… or does it always?

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (sort of)

For those who love the idea of exploring caves but can’t stomach the thought of wading through a bunch of creepy cave crawlies—the Škocjan Caves offers a fantastic experience without the bugs. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Slovenia and a must-see if you find yourself in that region.

Cerkvenik Bridge in Škocjan Caves
(image credit: Ramón – Wikimedia Commons).

There are two parts to the guided walking tour. The first part involves a 3 km walk through an underground canyon. The second part is a 1.5 km walk along the underground Reka River. You can opt out of the second part, making it a shorter 1.5 to 2-hour trip, rather than a 3-hour journey.

A wonderful part about the guided tour—you can only enter with a guide—is the total ban on photos and videos, including GoPros. It means that the trip is a lot safer and everyone enjoys the moment, rather than prance around trying to get that perfect selfie/wefie/whateverfie.

The view within the Caves is awe-inspiring. This is especially when you emerge from the “silent” part of the Caves to the gigantic underground cavern with the Reka River rushing underneath. At its highest, the cavern can fit a skyscraper. You can also walk across the Cerkvenik Bridge, which hangs 50 m above the river below. The river’s surge is so powerful that a fine mist billows around the air (great for contact lens wearers, that one).

So how do you get there?

Brilliant question.

Our trip to Škocjan Caves was… eventful, to say the least.

From Predjama Castle (a story for next time), we jumped into a rental car and punched in “Skocjan Caves” into Google Maps.

Sweet. Now we got on our way.

Forty minutes later, we got to an outer suburban-looking town. Odd, but let’s press on. The suburban street turned into a dirt road, and we kept driving. As we drove, the trees started closing in, tighter and tighter until we (phew!) finally got to a clearing with some wooden cabins. Now, odder still. Where did Google say these caves were again?

While we were frantically poring over our map, Google was adamant, “The GPS says that it’s here!” But for some reason, there was no visible sign, cave structure or entrance. Or anything really. Holy moly.

In our distraction, we almost didn’t see a VERY GRUMPY LADY approach the car. I wound down my window and squeaked, “Škocjan Caves?” She said nothing. And then nothing. Only a death stare. Oh crap.

We got the sense that if we stayed there a second longer she would have brought out a hunting rifle and shot us both. I mean, what’s with these wooden cabins that look suspiciously like hunting lodges? Ok, onward HO!

As we reversed out of the clearing, she decided that she would take a photo of our car. Friendly reception indeed.

When Google Maps leads you astray

It turned out that someone (cheeky or devious) had marked out this random place on Earth as the location of Škocjan Caves. The real deal was 40 minutes in the opposite direction.

You can try your best to report the incorrect location to Google, which I did later, to no avail. The Google form takes you down a rabbit hole to Nowhere in the Digital Desert. It’s kind of like punching a million 1-2-3-4-5 options to speak to a real person over the phone.

As of the time of writing, the wrong location is still there on Google Maps with a lot of grumpy reviews like, “Wrong location… Please delete this point.”

It was strangely satisfying to know that Google led multiple travellers astray—and which explained GRUMPY LADY. Let’s say that if she had a Daily Mood desk flipchart, no pages have changed since that day.

This is definitely not the right page.

So this brings us to your food for thought this week—what are the legal obligations of Big Tech companies when it comes to not wilfully impeding on private property rights? Slovenian law aside—is it a question of good old negligence when Google doesn’t put in proper processes for reporting incorrect location markers? Contribution for trespass? Or misleading or deceptive conduct? Which jurisdiction, court or tribunal decides this issue?

Instead of answering the question here, let’s make this the start of a very important conversation. 2019 was the year when we developed a greater awareness of what happens when Big Tech gets its hands on our data. 2020 might be the year that we start thinking about reasonable limits for Big Tech and how we expect it to operate within societies and the law.