Google’s clever way to determine the flow of traffic on the streets helps many people take the fastest way to work and back home every day. However, the Google Maps solution has a few of its own flaws. Artist Simon Weckert demonstrated one such flaw. He put 99 smartphones in a cart and wheeled it around as he walked on various streets in Berlin.
The experiment resulted in the streets showing a red traffic ‘jam’ wherever Simon walked through. This was true even when the streets were pretty much empty. He didn’t even spare Google’s own office in the city. The artist’s motive was to show people that though the technology is very useful, it isn’t necessarily foolproof. Simon posted his findings in a YouTube video that you can find here.
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How did Simon ‘hack’ Google Maps?
What Simon did was actually pretty straightforward. Google Maps uses a bunch of information from devices running the application. The service determines the number of phones concentrated in streets or intersections. Then it determines an estimate of how stagnated the traffic is at that point. The app shows this on three levels. Blue roads are fairly empty or have steadily moving healthy traffic. Those shown in orange are streets that have slow but moving traffic. The streets in red are usually the ones where traffic is either very slow or has come to a standstill.
Simon carrying the 99 phones with Google Maps running on them tricked the server into thinking that there is a high concentration of drivers in the area. In Google Maps’ eyes, this was not written off as a place where 99 people had simply gathered. This was because Simon had put the smartphones in a cart and was following streets as he walked with it, emulating slow-moving traffic.
What Simon did could have actually persuaded other users into being diverted to other streets to avoid the ‘traffic jam’ on his street. This could be misused easily, even fooling emergency services like ambulances into taking other longer routes. Google should conduct an investigation into the matter and devise a way to not detect falsely created scenarios as real-world data.