You may think that tricking a system as advanced and widely used as Google Maps would be virtually impossible, with the company spending millions of dollars on cybersecurity every year. To test exactly how advanced the system is, Simon Weckert, a Berlin-based artist decided to cause a series of traffic jams without using a single car.
Weckert managed to pull this feat off by gathering a total of 99 smartphones and hauling them around the city of Berlin in a handcart, which Google maps falsely registered as 99 cars clogging up the streets. In actual fact, you can see in Weckert’s 2-minute long youtube video that the streets were completely empty.
According to Weckert’s website, “he seeks to assess the value of technology, not in terms of actual utility, but from the perspective of future generations. He wants to raise awareness of the privileged state in which people live within Western civilization and remind them of the obligations attached to this privilege.”
This experiment may seem like a bit of harmless fun, but if you were in a rush to get to an important meeting and you opened Google Maps just to find that your current route has been hit by a traffic jam, you would be inclined to find an alternative route which could end up costing your valuable time, and in this case, all for nothing.
Weckert doesn’t go into detail about the technical aspects of his experiment, but Torrey Hoffman, Google’s engineering manager for Google Maps responded to a tweet doubling the validity of Werckert’s video by saying “I work for Google Maps and I know quite a bit about how this works. I believe this is possible.”
I work for Google maps and I know quite a bit about how this works. I believe this is possible.
— Torrey Hoffman (@torreyh) February 2, 2020
Weckert’s video might not have caused any serious accidents or long-lasting traffic jams, but it does prove that any programs, even ones as advanced as Google Maps can be manipulated with ease.