An artist from Berlin has created a performance art piece called Google Maps Hack. Simon Weckert created a traffic jam on an empty road by using only a trolley filled with 99 smartphones.
In an attempt to trick Google Maps into 'turning a green street red', Weckert hauled the cart around the empty streets of Berlin, with each phone running the Google Maps app.
For those not familiar with the app, Google Maps is an app that helps to plan out your journey. It shows you where to avoid being stuck in traffic on roads or motorways and allows for detours when and where necessary. As any user of Google Maps knows, the app colour-codes the roads to signify the amount of traffic. Green roads are quieter, and traffic flows smoothly; amber roads mean there is some traffic to deal with, and red signals a route to avoid.
The app gathers traffic data by accessing the geolocation of smartphones and also mobile network base stations. In other words, Google collects information from users running Maps and logs journey progress to determine traffic movement.
The artist was able to exploit the app by walking the quiet streets with the 99 phones, which gave Google the illusion that the roads were almost gridlocked, with traffic moving slowly, if at all. Google Maps interpreted 99 people stuck in traffic, rather than recognising just Simon and his haul of phones.
As Weckert walked the empty streets, the streets are shown slowly turning from green to amber and finally red, signalling slow-moving vehicles. This resulted in Google Maps diverting drivers away from there and on to a better route.
Anyone with enough smartphones can cause a traffic jam on Google Maps, but strongly not advised. As fun as it sounds, it does come with consequences for traffic being diverted and to an area already at a standstill. Emergency services will also have to try to navigate that route, which is now significantly busier than it should be due to a false diversion. This may put lives at risk.
While it is an interesting social experiment and one of the more creative uses of Google, the impact in the physical world could be dire.