Artist tricks Google Maps into recording traffic jam with 99 cellphones and a wagon

All of the cellphones had their location services turned on.

February 04, 2020, 5:13 PM

An artist in Berlin tricked Google Maps into believing there was heavy traffic on one of the city's main thoroughfares with just a wagon full of cellphones -- and no cars.

Simon Weckert carted around 99 smartphones -- which had their location services turned on and were sending data to Google Maps -- on the An der Schillingbrücke bridge, which crosses over the Spree river.

A video of the stunt showed Google Maps changing the street traffic code from green (meaning no traffic delays) to red (meaning traffic delays).

Weckert is seen pulling the wagon either in the middle of the street or to the side, but the streets are otherwise practically empty.

"Through this activity, it is possible to turn a green street red which has an impact in the physical world by navigating cars on another route to avoid being stuck in traffic," Weckert wrote in a statement about the performance art.

Weckert also quoted an essay, called "The Power of Virtual Maps," by a researcher at the Berlin Institute of Technology.

"Google’s map service has fundamentally changed our understanding of what a map is, how we interact with maps, their technological limitations, and how they look aesthetically," the essay reads. "In this fashion, Google Maps makes virtual changes to the real city. Applications such as Airbnb and Carsharing have an immense impact on cities: on their housing market and mobility culture, for instance."

The essay continues, pondering what kind influence virtual maps have over "the behaviour, opinions and images of living beings."

PHOTO: Simon Weckert created a fake traffic jam in Berlin by pulling 99 cell phones, all of which had their location services turned on, in a wagon throughout the city's streets.
Simon Weckert created a fake traffic jam in Berlin by pulling 99 cell phones, all of which had their location services turned on, in a wagon throughout the city's streets.
Simon Weckert

A Google spokesperson told ABC News that the company appreciates "seeing creative uses of Google Maps like this as it helps us make maps work better over time."

The spokesperson noted that Google Maps is refreshed continuously thanks to information from a slew of sources, including aggregated anonymized data from people who have their location services enabled on their phones.

Though the app is working to distinguish between cars and motorcycles, the spokesperson said "we haven't quite cracked traveling by the wagon."

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