A man has created traffic jams by walking around town, wheeling a big trailer full of cell phones behind him.
Google Maps is incredibly useful. It tells you how to get places without arguing with somebody sitting next to you with a gigantic map. It's even put an end to endless conversations with family about which roads you took to get home. I followed the satnav like everybody else DAD, I have no idea which roads anymore because nobody does, Jesus Christ.
It's a reliable tool that – generally quite accurately – tells you how to get to where you want to go quickly, and how to avoid traffic along the way. But it turns out it's quite simple to hack. All you need is a shitload of phones and a bad attitude.
This is how artist Simon Weckert "hacked" Google Maps for a project, causing fake traffic jams to follow him around wherever he went.
To do the "hack", Weckert hired out 99 phones and bought sim cards for them online, Vice reports. He then put the sim cards in the phones and loaded up Google Maps on all of them, and loaded them into his wagon.
It really was then just a matter of walking around town.
Data is a two-way street, and the opened Google Maps were telling Google that whatever street he was walking down was rammed full of traffic in a very small area. They had failed to take into account it might be an artist making a point, something the programmers probably hadn't anticipated during the planning phase of Google Maps.
“By transporting the smartphones in the street I’m able to generate virtual traffic which will navigate cars on another route,” Weckert told Motherboard. “Ironically that can generate a real traffic jam somewhere else in the city.”
He'd spend an hour or two walking back and forth in the same area in order to generate a traffic jam, probably sending other people using Google Maps on other routes to avoid the "traffic".
The project, like his other work, he told Motherboard, was intended to make people think about the data we rely on.
"Data is always translated to what they might be presented. The images, lists, graphs, and maps that represent those data are all interpretations, and there is no such thing as neutral data," Weckert writes on his website.
"Data is always collected for a specific purpose, by a combination of people, technology, money, commerce, and government."
It's certainly got people talking, as well as devising ways to use this information for evil.
Google has since confirmed to 9to5Google that they do use a large number of devices running in a small area as an indication that there's a traffic jam.
"Traffic data in Google Maps is refreshed continuously thanks to information from a variety of sources, including aggregated anonymized data from people who have location services turned on and contributions from the Google Maps community," they said, adding that they're grateful for the "hack" as it helps them improve Google Maps.
"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."