An artist wheeled 99 smartphones around in a wagon to create fake traffic jams on Google Maps

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An artist wheeled 99 smartphones around in a wagon to create fake traffic jams on Google Maps

Simon Weckert smartphone project
  • An artist pulled 99 smartphones around Berlin in a red wagon, tracking how the gadgets affected Google Maps' traffic interface.
  • Wherever the phones went, Google Maps showed a traffic jam, displaying a red line and routing Maps users around the area.
  • Google Maps determines traffic by pinging smartphones that use the app in order to predict the density of cars in a given area.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

An artist "hacked" Google Maps' traffic display - and all it took was a red wagon and 99 smartphones.

Simon Weckert toted the pile of smartphones down empty streets in Berlin. Every street he traversed suddenly appeared as a red, traffic-heavy zone on Google Maps, causing drivers to reroute to avoid the streets, as shown in Weckert's YouTube video documenting the results.

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Weckert essentially gamed the mechanism Google Maps uses to predict traffic. The app constantly pings smartphones actively using Google's software in order to determine the approximate density of traffic and how fast that traffic is moving.

For Weckert's experiment, all 99 smartphones were turned on with Google Maps running.

In an email to Business Insider, Weckert said he isn't sure whether Google has patched Maps to protect against stunts like his. He carried out the experiment last summer, but published the results this week in honor of the nearing 15th birthday of Google Maps.

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Weckert added that he wanted to draw attention to the blind trust many have in tech companies and platforms.

"Maps have the potential as an instrument of power for some intentions. They substitute political and military power," Weckert said. "We are highly focused on [apps like Google Maps'] data 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."

"Whether via car or cart or camel, we love seeing creative uses of Google Maps as it helps us make maps work better over time," a Google spokesperson told Business Insider in a statement.

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