Home > Public Domain Data > Creating fake data on web mapping services

Creating fake data on web mapping services

Aligned with our theme of this blog of “be critical of the data,” consider the following recent fascinating story:  An artist wheeled 99 smartphones around in a wagon to create fake traffic jams on Google Maps.  An artist pulled 99 smartphones around Berlin in a little red wagon, in order to track how the phones affected Google Maps’ traffic interface.  On each phone, he called up the Google Map interface.  As we discuss in our book, traffic and other real-time layers depend in large part on data contributed to by the citizen science network; ordinary people who are contributing data to the cloud, and in this and other cases, not intentionally.  Wherever the phones traveled, Google Maps for a while showed a traffic jam, displaying a red line and routing users around the area.

It wasn’t difficult to do, and it shows several things; (1) that the Google Maps traffic layer (in this case) was doing what it was supposed to do, reflecting what it perceived as true local conditions; (2) that it may be sometimes easy to create fake data using web mapping tools; hence, be critical of data, including maps, as we have been stating on this blog for 8 years; (3) the IoT includes people, and at 7.5 billion strong, people have a great influence over the sensor network and the Internet of Things.

The URL of his amusing video showing him toting the red wagon around is here,  and the full URL of the story is below:

I just wonder how he was able to obtain permission from 99 people to use their smartphones.  Or did he buy 99 photos on sale somewhere?

–Joseph Kerski




  1. Robert White
    February 17, 2020 at 1:47 am

    I actually don’t imagine this would be terribly difficult. I have five or six old phones just in my house. Setting them up on Wi-Fi and then sharing the Wi-Fi of a modern phone with a Wi-Fi hotspot to the old phones should be pretty easy. Each old phone could then access a separate session of Google maps and into the wagon they go. If you have some friends, borrowing their old phones to reach 99 is not going to be that big of a project.

    • josephkerski
      February 17, 2020 at 4:23 pm

      Thanks Robert. I have old phones too but I dropped the services on them so I couldn’t use them for this purpose. Wouldn’t you need a data plan to be able to use the old phones? Anyway, thanks for reading this column and I hope you find it to be of interest! –Joseph Kerski

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: