Boundless Distortion

After reading the leaked news about Boundless Informant, reportedly the NSA’s ultra-awesome personal data portal, the most disappointing thing for me was finding out that they’re using a Mercator projection as their global view.

Even though most of us grew up with Mercator-flattened maps of the Earth in our classrooms, which I later learned to be a more distorted view than I can recall anyone ever telling us in the classroom. For example, it makes Australia appear quite small, and not nearly three times the size of Greenland, which it is. I didn’t expect the NSA to go all Gall-Peters, but the Army invented a much more accurate projection system in the 1940s, so why not use it?

Life is a constant struggle through cognitive biases of one kind or another. If no thought was given to how a depiction of the world might affect the biases of people using that system, then there is likely a world of bias echoing through the rest of their investigative interface. And if some people gave a lot of thought to how to depict the world and they chose Mercator’s distortions, that’s also interesting.