Google Maps has changed the way we navigate the world but its influence actually goes beyond just locating and navigating. A whole flood of new businesses, experiences, and mentalities have grown up around the ability to zoom and pan around more than just a digital version of a map. But, as the cliché goes, with great power comes great responsibility, and one “hack” showed just how easy it was to game Google’s system and literally change the flow.
Although some might argue that Waze, which is also owned by Google now, does a better job at navigating roads and displaying traffic information, Google Maps has, over time, incorporating some of those into its own app. This helps people save time by not having to switch between apps for specific information.
Unlike Waze, which partly crowdsources its traffic information, Google Maps may be using automated systems that take into account, for example, the volume of Google Maps users viewing traffic information at a given location or time.
Simon Weckert, a Berlin-based artist with a penchant for technology and the digital world, took 99 second-hand phones, put them in a cart, and slowly pulled them along streets and roads. Google Maps’ servers may have interpreted it as traffic congestion, which it naturally reflected on the map for everyone else to see. This, in turn, prompted drivers to turn away and avoid what are actually clear streets.
The purpose of the hack-less hack may have been to demonstrate how modern life has become too dependent on such a service, but it may have also exposed a flaw in Google Maps’ systems. The tech giant may adjust its parameters and algorithms to take into account such a situation, no matter how far-fetched it may sound.