24th Art Division Social Impact Award
Google Maps Hacks
Ninety-nine second-hand smartphones are transported in a handcart to generate virtual traffic jam on Google Maps. Through this activity, it is possible to turn a green (no congestion) street red (congested). As a result, by navigating cars to another route to avoid being stuck in traffic, the project impacts the physical world. The advent of Google’s Geo Tools began in 2005 with Google Maps and Google Earth. They have since become enormously more technologically advanced and, through numerous services that utilize Google Maps, are making virtual changes to the real city. The work is an example of contemporary social change through practice, combining performance, social activism, obfuscation, and hacking. It gives a simple DIY recipe on how to interact with and influence invisible algorithms behind Google Maps, a proprietary platform shaping our movements and behavior. Google is not only aware of the project, but they also responded to the artist, stating that they are working on making their system better to distinguish the signals from different vehicles—including handcarts.
Google Maps Hacks is a physical intervention that exposes the limits and pitfall of real-time data collection. The artist took 99 second-hand phones, enabled their tracking features, and moved them around using a handcart. The position data is sent to Google, where algorithms analyze the data and come to the conclusion that because of the number of signals and their proximity to each other, there must be a traffic jam. The artist was inspired to create this work when attending a demonstration, where he noticed that the concentration of the participants’ phones was displayed as a traffic congestion on Google Maps. By taking this observation ad absurdum, the artist creates a tactical hack, the invisible and ongoing data collection of the tech giants is exposed, and this process shows that an individual has the power to initiate change. This subversion through over-affirmation not only exposes the machinations behind Google Maps, but also creates a playful way of not-conforming. (Georg TREMMEL)