Note: I don’t think people should actually do this, just food for thought
As I was driving between Maine and Boston, my phone chirped, “A faster route is available. Rerouting”. Google Maps had analyzed the current traffic conditions and suggested I switch my route from Highway 93 South to Highway 1. I was thankful for the few minutes saved, but my mind started racing. How, exactly, does Google know the traffic conditions?
A quick Bing Search* answered my question. Not too surprisingly, when you connect your phone to Google Maps, your current location is constantly sent back to Google’s servers. This allows the company to see your location, speed, and direction. From this information, Google can predict the current traffic conditions. They only need to see one or two cars on a given stretch of road in order to get a good estimate of current conditions. These condition estimates are then used to calculate optimal routes for other drivers.
If Google relies on the behavior of a few cars in order to predict traffic conditions, and Google maps reroutes other people based off of these traffic conditions, is it possible to simulate a traffic jam in order to route other cars away from you?
A miffed Quora user saw the traffic on his side street greatly pick up in the last couple of years. He guessed that during rush hour Google had begun to reroute drivers away from the main boulevard and down his street. He wondered whether it was possible to ‘hack’ Google in order to regain the serene sounds of a still street.
This question received an interesting response from a Sri Lankan man who uses Google Map Maker to improve his local maps. In his town, Google Maps would often route cars down non preferred roads as opposed to better-quality main roads. This issue was fixed by setting super low speed limits on the non-preferred roads (Google’s algorithms rely on quickest time estimates, so driving 1MPH down a road is always a no-go). His Quora answer mentioned that no one should ever use this tactic for malicious purposes, and that this ‘vandalism’ was a reason why Map Maker has been shut down.
Another idea is to trick Google into thinking there are way more cars on the road. Instead of counting cars, Google Maps counts connected Smart Phones. So, if you have a group in your car, why not have all of them open Google Maps. Smartphone GPS’s are only accurate to about 10 meters anyway. Its hard to know if you are all in the same car.
Its unlikely that four more ‘cars’ would make a difference. However, what if you loaded up your car with 1000 connected smartphones? True, it would be a bit expensive, but surely 1000 extra cars would trip the Google Map Traffic threshold from Green to Red. Then, instead of Google sending more cars your way, new GPS users would be routed away from your location.
Unfortunately, 1000 cars driving above the speed limit doesn’t quite look like a traffic jam, and driving at traffic jam speeds would defeat one’s goal. Instead, perhaps we can take a page out of the book of Pokemon Go superusers. In order to capture all of the Pokemon, one must traverse the real world earth, as some Pokemon are only available on certain continents. This is much easier to do with software than with plane tickets. Users of Pokemon Go have been using GPS spoofers in order to trick the company into thinking their phone is in a different location. This has caused uproar in the community and the company is struggling to prevent it.
With these GPS Spoofing tools in hand, take your 1000 smartphones out of your trunk and set them all up to be your entourage. Whenever you are driving, tell all of your phones to ‘drive’ a mile ahead of you, at half of the speed limit. This should make Google think there is a traffic jam on your route, and hopefully reroute all cars away from your location. You know better, and now have the entire road to yourself. Traffic is history.
*Ok, fine, you caught me, I used Google Search. That company is everywhere…
Header photo © Google Maps
Body photo © Wired.com