Man creates fake traffic jam on Google Maps by carting around 99 cellphones

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I’m not sure to understand how these phone are registered as car and not just pedestrian moving all together as a group.
Is GPS precise enough to see he is in the middle and not in the side?
But still accept all phone to be stacked all together?


This is pretty cyberpunk, right?


If I drive around with 99 phones (or hundreds of phones), although I’ll be moving at speed, will the traffic volume will be registered as much higher? Will this have an impact? If yes, is the latency such that it will have no effect on the route ahead of me (e.g. a 200 mile trip up the M1) or will it have the effect of reducing traffic volume ahead? How far ahead? Maybe I need a bunch of sherpas booked to walk around on the M1 every 20 miles or so with their 99 phones to reduce traffic volume and ease my journey.

I’m so buying shares in cellphone operators now! :wink:


It doesn’t have to be registered as a car. If you’re sharing your location with Google, then they feed that into Maps/Waze. A quick analysis of the number of phones normally in that area (because of homes and offices) versus phones not normally in that area will tell you how the traffic is.
It’s a pretty good heuristic.
And one that he ruined by brute force.
I’ve no doubt Google could route around this. But for the moment it reminds us that the convenience we take for granted can be attacked.
Is it antisocial of Google to take the aggregated data and give us a free service? Or is the gentleman highlighting important points about privacy? Is it antisocial of the gentleman to attack a service people might be depending on? Or is it simply reducing people’s dependency on the service?
So many questions, so many different viewpoints…


Just keep to the center of road, and Google will sniff the location from the phones, assume that they’re slow moving cars, and use that to build its traffic map.

To be more definite, use Google for navigation and set it for car.


Kettle start - kettle end.

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Sure, but if Google is so precise that it can see I’m in the middle of the road and not on the side, it should be able to sniff we are a huge pile of people on a ladder and it can’t be a bus…


Probably he had them running in Google Maps with Car directions, not pedestrian directions.

It must have sounded neat when he approached a turn and 99 phones announce the upcoming maneuver at once.

It can’t just be “slow and in the road” because otherwise busses would be triggering this behavior all the time. I’m betting it works because he had the phones providing directions for car travel.


The author is at least a little ignorant; this is not a zero day hack.

Ah. Not clear if the man in the article just had GMaps open or had programmed them all with directions for a car. If he didn’t, then I bet Google engineers are looking at adding a weighting to discriminate in favour of data from people actually using car directions, excluding those using pedestrian directions, and thus tempering their overall “how many phones are here?” algorithm.

And @DavidVincent and @jandrese


Welcome to BoingBoing, Dmitry. Stick around long enough and you’ll get used to Rob Beschizza’s sense of humour.

And who knows if map / traffic density feedback has been ‘hacked’ like this before anywhere? Maybe this guy was just the first one to publicise it, not the first to do it.


Since they are so close together, I would have thought Google and Waze would interpret them as a bus, not a traffic jam.


Presumably what’s on here is not just precise location determination (although that’s a factor) - he’s trying to fool the algorithm that determines what the mode of transport is. There’s none of the cadence you’d expect from being a pedestrian’s pocket (it’s in cart) and you’re not seeing the kind of acceleration/deceleration you’d see from a bike.


I wonder if he paid for 99 data plans, or if he just set up one phone as a wifi access point for the rest? If the latter, that’ll give the game away pretty fast when Google looks into it.


But why? What’s the point of doing this?

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Because you can.


Should I be shocked at the apparent level of market penetration for Google Maps? I mean, it’s not clear from the description what the ‘normal’ traffic would look like here, but since only a few cars are shown passing the guy, I presume that means that most of the cars are following whatever Google tells them (I don’t use it myself, but I get around by bike most of the time. Maybe I should throw a few surplus phones into my bike bag on my commute?)

how many buses have the capacity for 99 people, how often are they actually filled to that capacity?

Is this even on a bus route, wouldn’t a bus be moving significantly faster on average than a person walking with a wagon full o’ cell phones?