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The Race to Map Brazil's Favelas

In an effort to tap into new users, companies like Google and Microsoft are racing to map the winding, informal streets of Brazil's slums in Rio de Janeiro.
September 25, 2014, 1pm PDT | Maayan Dembo | @DJ_Mayjahn
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As reported in the Wall Street Journal by Will Connors, more than 85 percent of Brazil's 1.5 million favela residents own a mobile phone, with more than 50 percent accessing the Internet regularly. Companies providing free mapping services like Google and Microsoft are beginning to map the informal slums throughout Rio de Janeiro, with the help of local residents and volunteers.

Long unrecognized by municipalities, officials never commissioned cartographers to map these settlements. Local residents, such as Eliana Silva of Redes de Maré, have organized local mapping efforts within the airport-adjacent favela of Maré in an attempt to obtain recognition and public services. While Silva mapped one favela, the two tech giants are working in four different favelas within Rio, and more throughout the country.

However, mapping these "dense, often hilly favelas hasn't been without challenges. Many streets didn't have official names, so local organizations polled residents. One street in Maré was named after a particularly handy local electrician who had lived there. In some cases, volunteers had to send in mediators first to persuade local criminals to let them do the mapping."

Overall, the companies hope these mapping efforts will help to open up the favelas and integrate them better into the city. In addition, more businesses on the maps helps the companies' bottom line through greater advertising revenue.

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Published on Thursday, September 25, 2014 in The Wall Street Journal
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