August 26, 2009 | by Andrew Kameka
Google has announced that it is taking live information from GPS-enabled mobile phones running Google Maps to provide a new map layer with traffic data. The practice, a form of “crowdsourcing,” uses GPS location and motorist speed to determine traffic flow on major roadways, enabling Google to gather enough data to show users when congestion may cause delays on their commute.
Multiplatform application Waze employs a similar concept to gather user data and deliver real-time traffic information on a map. Like Waze, Google Maps is designed to gather information from users and provide data that can help make a more-informed decision about which route or roadway to drive. The feature comes pre-installed on the mytouch 3G and Palm Pre, but not on the iPhone. It allows Google to “expand our traffic layer to cover all U.S. highways and arterials when data is available.”
Google is only implementing the expanded traffic data in select cities, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see an updated Maps app with traffic information. At the moment, the select cities are Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.
And before the Big Brother Watchdog coalition flames the comment section (for very understandable reasons), the data is completely anonymous, according to Google. The entire statement regarding privacy concerns is as follows:
We only use anonymous speed and location information to calculate traffic conditions, and only do so when you have chosen to enable location services on your phone. We use our scale to provide further privacy protection: When a lot of people are reporting data from the same area, we combine their data together to make it hard to tell one phone from another. Even though the vehicle carrying a phone is anonymous, we don’t want anybody to be able to find out where that anonymous vehicle came from or where it went — so we find the start and end points of every trip and permanently delete that data so that even Google ceases to have access to it. We take the privacy concerns related to user location data seriously, and have worked hard to protect the privacy of users who share this data — but we still understand that not everybody will want to participate. If you’d like to stop your phone from sending anonymous location data back to Google, you can find opt-out instructions here.