The Google Maps Android app has over 5 billion downloads. It is safe to say that it has at least a few hundred million active users who rely on Google Maps for everyday commute or just to travel to a new place. Maps can help you get to the fastest route by letting you know where you’ll face traffic. However, it isn’t all that hard to fool Google Maps traffic functionality. Artist Simon Weckert shows this by creating fake traffic jams on Google Maps across the streets of Berlin.
How traffic prediction works on Google Maps
Obviously, Google isn’t an omnipotent God. It’s a technology company that relies on data generated by its users. With so many people out there using Google Maps, it’s easy for the company to know when a bunch of users are stuck on a road, and moving slower than they should. This could only mean one thing, traffic. So when that happens, Google Maps will make the street red, or yellow, depending on how fast users are moving through that particular street or road.
More specifically, it is the mobile phones that Google is tracking, not the users. The company has no way of tracking users that aren’t carrying a mobile phone or at least a smartwatch. So by analyzing this crowdsourced data for factors such as the number of vehicles, their speed, etc. Google Maps generates a live map of traffic.
Simon Weckert uses this very feature of Google Maps to spoof virtual traffic as he carries his cart through Berlin.
Creating fake traffic on Google Maps
Imagine someone with a cart full of smartphones, 99 of them to be precise. All of them are switched on and are connected, with Google Maps installed. This cart was real and it was actually being wheeled around Berlin by someone. This was an experiment by Simon Weckert who has posted it on YouTube. The phones, according to the video, fooled Google Maps into thinking there were a large number of users on the streets, moving pretty slowly.
Thus, Google Maps assumed there was a pretty big traffic jam wherever the cart rolled around, including the front of the Google office in Berlin. Naturally, the Maps app started turning green streets to red. Here’s Simon Weckert’s video from YouTube if you want to watch the Google Maps spoof in live-action.
The way this video is presented doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in it and it may just be a ruse. While Google hasn’t commented on it yet, this does put users at potential risk. It’s not hard to imagine a crazy person plan out such a virtual traffic jam hoping you’d take another route, where they can probably execute whatever evil plan they have. Yes, I watch a lot of movies.