Artist uses 99 phones to trick Google into traffic jam alert


Written by Rory Sullivan, CNN

An artist in Berlin has tricked Google Maps into creating traffic jam alerts by pulling 99 phones -- with their location services on -- slowly around the German capital in a handcart.

Simon Weckert, who named his performance "Google Maps Hacks," took to the streets of Berlin with a small red cart and a pile of second-hand phones, which he borrowed from friends and rented from smartphone companies.

Walking on roads near the River Spree -- which appear empty in footage he released on YouTube -- Weckert managed to trick Google Maps into thinking the phones were sitting in slow-moving traffic.

This resulted in Google Maps giving out traffic jam alerts for the streets he was walking along.

One of his virtual traffic jams, he said, went past Google Berlin's offices.

'An impact in the physical world'

Weckert said in a statement on his website that his work caused "an impact in the physical world" by rerouting cars who wanted to avoid being stuck in traffic.

He told CNN that he came up with the idea after he attended a demonstration in Berlin and noticed how people in a confined space created a "virtual traffic jam" on Google Maps when they were slowly moving forward.

Weckert added that his work highlights the "blindness" that arises when people think of data as "objective, unambiguous and interpretation free."

A spokesperson for Google said in a statement: "Whether via car or cart or camel, we love seeing creative uses of Google Maps as it helps us make maps work better over time."

The statement added that this was a rare case and that wagons were not yet a form of transport which its research team had cracked.

Weckert's performance piece came just days before the 15th anniversary of Google Maps' founding.

He is not the only person to have toyed with Google's data collection methods.

In 2015, Google suspended its public Map Maker tool after pranksters created fake landmarks, including a park in Pakistan shaped like an Android robot peeing on an Apple logo.