Berlin artist with 99 phones tricks Google Maps into traffic jam alert

Berlin artist with 99 phones tricks Google Maps into traffic jam alert

A man was walking through the streets of Berlin with nothing but a handcart containing a bunch of old mobile phones. Perhaps not a totally unprecedented sight in a city that places such heavy emphasis on “being alternative”, but one thing about him was especially unusual - he managed to create a major traffic jam that only existed on Google Maps. 

Google Maps Hacks

Simon Weckert, an artist based in Berlin, wanted to demonstrate how digital services influence the physical world. For his art project, “Google Maps Hacks”, he walked through Berlin with handcart. The cart contained 99 used smartphones, which were all reporting their locations and movements back to Google. 

As Weckert had hoped, Google Maps interpreted the data as a huge cluster of slow-moving traffic, and duly reported this via the app. As you can see in the video below, the street Weckert was crossing slowly turned from green to orange to dark red. Other drivers were redirected away from the area to avoid a jam that did not exist. 

“Through this activity, it is possible to turn a green street red, which has an impact on the physical world, because drivers are navigated onto other routes to avoid being stuck in traffic,” Weckert wrote. 

Maps to enable or control?

He says he got the idea for the stunt during a demo on May 1: “There were a lot of people on the street and when I looked at the app everything was red.” He then decided to test Google Maps. 

On his website, Weckert quotes the German anthropologist Moritz Ahlhert: “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 [...] What is the relationship between the art of enabling and techniques of supervision, control and regulation in Google’s maps?” 

In a statement, a Google spokesperson said, “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.” 

Image credit: Simon Weckert / Google Maps Hacks



Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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