Have you ever wondered how Google Maps can tell if there’s a traffic jam? Maybe not, but we’ve got you wondering now, so we’ll answer the question.
Yep, it’s as simple as that. The web mapping service crowdsources its data directly from users. Every time Google Maps is running on the background of your phone, it’s sending anonymous data back to Google on how fast cars are moving.
Using this knowledge, an artist pulled a seriously annoying (but pretty clever) stunt to trick Google Maps into thinking that there was a traffic jam.
Simon Weckert, from Germany, dragged a cart full of 99 phones with Google Maps’ navigation turned on down the streets of Berlin. You can guess what happened next – although the road was almost completely car-free, it quickly turned from green to red on the app.
On his website he wrote:
“Google’s map service has fundamentally changed our understanding of what a map is, how we interact with maps, their technological limitations, and how they look aesthetically.”
He also said the application had ”established a position for itself’ by interacting with other apps such as Airbnb and deliveroo, thereby creating a new form of ‘digital capitalism’.
Writing about it on his website, Weckert said:
“With its Geo Tools, Google has created a platform that allows users and businesses to interact with maps in a novel way. This means that questions relating to power in the discourse of cartography have to be reformulated. But what is the relationship between the art of enabling and techniques of supervision, control and regulation in Google’s maps?
Do these maps function as dispositive nets that determine the behaviour, opinions and images of living beings, exercising power and controlling knowledge?”
On February 1, Mr Weckert took to his Twitter page to share his video with his followers in a post which read:
“99 smartphones are transported in a handcart to generate virtual traffic jam in Google Maps. Through this activity, it is possible to turn a green street red which has an impact in the physical world by navigating cars on another route! #googlemapshacks.”
A Google spokesperson said: “Whether via car or cart or camel, we love seeing creative uses of Google Maps as it helps us make maps work better over time.”
Granted, it’s funny, but if someone pulled this stunt and re-directed our route home from work we’d be less that impressed. So if you’re thinking about copying Weckert… just don’t.