A German artist used smartphones in a wagon to fool Google Maps into thinking there were traffic jams on empty streets in a new performance installation.
Berlin-based artist Simon Weckert filmed himself taking 99 smartphones with location services turned on through various empty streets in Berlin, which “generated virtual traffic” and turned a “green street red,” according to the YouTube video uploaded Saturday.
The YouTube video shows streets on Google Maps gradually turning from green to red, suggesting that the slow pace of the wagon and high number of smartphones showing their location bunched up mimics a traffic jam to Google’s crowdsourced traffic data.
In theory, motorists using Google Maps would then be navigated away from Weckert and his wagon with suggested alternate routes to their destinations.
Weckert wrote about his project on his blog in a post entitled “Google Maps Hacks,” discussing his methods and reasoning.
“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 blog post reads.
Weckert claims that Google Maps “makes virtual changes to the real city” citing companies like Uber, Airbnb, Tinder and Deliveroo that function via various interfaces with Google and its Maps function, which in turn create “new forms of digital capitalism and commodification.”
“Airbnb and Carsharing [sic] have an immense impact on cities: on their housing market and mobility culture, for instance,” Weckert’s blog post explains. “There is also a major impact on how we find a romantic partner, thanks to dating platforms such as Tinder.”
The project write-up said Weckert’s performance aims to bring attention to the power dynamics that Google Maps holds, asking “what is the relationship between the art of enabling and techniques of supervision, control and regulation in Google’s maps?”
Google has not publicly responded to the video.