A Berlin-based artist was able to generate fake traffic jams on the Google Maps interface simply by carting a wagon filled with 99 smartphones around a city block.
In an experiment conducted in 2019 but published on YouTube this month, Simon Weckert was able to turn a 'green' street red by opening the Google Maps app on all 99 phones and leaving it running as he traversed various streets around the city.
Weckert's video of the experiment captured the changes in real time, with his trolley of phones single-handedly changing each street's status to red as he and his wagon passed through.
In order to ascertain traffic conditions in a certain area, Google Maps pings nearby smartphones using location services, meaning the high volume of smartphones in Weckert's wagon would have created a faux traffic surge in the app.
Image: Simon Weckert
"Traffic data in Google Maps is refreshed continuously thanks to information from a variety of sources, including aggregated anonymised data from people who have location services turned on and contributions from the Google Maps community," a Google spokesperson told CarAdvice.
"We've launched the ability to distinguish between cars and motorcycles in several countries including India, Indonesia and Egypt, though we haven't quite cracked traveling by wagon.
"We appreciate seeing creative uses of Google Maps like this as it helps us make maps work better over time."
Manipulations like the kind employed by Weckert could theoretically re-route drivers away from particular areas and alter the flow of traffic significantly.
Speaking to Business Insider, Weckert said he conducted the stunt in an effort to highlight the "blind trust that many people have in tech companies and platforms".
Speaking of apps like Google Maps, Weckert said: “[We] and tend to see them as objective … thus data are viewed as the world itself, forgetting that the numbers are only representing a model of the world.”
You can watch Weckert's full video below.
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