The program that supplies maps to Snapchat, Citi Bike, StreetEasy, Zillow and many others was edited to insert anti-Semetic language that relabeled New York City as “Jewtropolis” on Thursday, the company said.
The malicious edit was made to the code on Mapbox, the company that provides the maps, despite a security system it said involves a double-monitoring using both artificial intelligence and human review.
“While the fix was able to go out within an hour, the problem and what we’re doing right now is: How did this happen?” Mapbox CEO Eric Gundersen told ABC News on Thursday.
“Everything that’s quarantined by the AI system is reviewed,” he continued. “So 70,000 things a day are quarantined. In this case — and this is so disgusting –- this person made 80 edits all focused on anti-Semitic language from New York to New Zealand. Every single one of those edits was captured, every single one was reviewed. One of those edits was overridden and pushed live.”
Mapbox was quick to issue a statement via Twitter, calling the incident a “disgusting attack” and stating its “zero-tolerance policy against hate speech and any malicious edits to our maps.”
The software is open-source, so technically it wasn’t a hack. The person suspected of making the anti-Semitic edits appears to be a bad actor who was known on other sites and had been blocked before.
All of the quarantined data is reviewed by people, but the aberrant code from the bad actor slipped through, Gundersen said.
“All of his stuff was caught,” he said. “One of his edits, we had a second override, where everything quarantined was being reviewed, but that slur over New York was pushed live by a human. It was our redundant checking system for AI that overrode the AI.”
Gundersen said he believed the override was unintentional.
“The fact that every single other edit was denied, everything shows that this is an accident,” the CEO said. “This human particularly reviewed other offensive edits by that person today and denied those edits.”
The company, which was started in 2011, is an open-source platform that provides a base map layer, or geographic data, that businesses can then customize. In addition to the clients affected by Thursday’s attack, the company also provides mapping for The Weather Channel, Tinder, Lonely Planet and The New York Times.
“The internet needs to be safe, maps needs to be safe,” Gundersen said. “The [beauty] about ground troops is local communities are able to show what’s important to them and put them on the map. What you had today was somebody running into somebody’s community and spewing hatred and it’s basically digital graffiti.”