One of my photos

Crowdsourced traffic

August 26th, 2009 · Posted by Skuds in Technology · 1 Comment · Technology

Google’s announcement about expanding traffic information on Google Maps (in the US) is fascinating stuff both technically and sociologically.  What they are doing is collecting data from mobile phones that have GPS-type functionality and tracking how quickly they are moving along main highways so that information about traffic problems can be overlaid on their maps in real-time.This sort of thing depends on sufficient numbers of devices existing and having them belong to people who are willing to allow their positional information to be transmitted.  According to Google the number of such devices has reached a level where there are enough data points to generate useful information in the US.  My mind is boggling at the thought of the amount of information being collected and processed – while wondering how it generates enough revenue to fund that processing.

The interesting thing is that nobody gets any benefit from their own information – obviously they already know the traffic conditions on the bit of road they are driving on.;  All the useful information is coming from other people on the roads you are thinking of taking.  The whole thing depends on large numbers of people all contributing and all benefiting from the common store of knowledge, although not directly from their own contribution.  (And this in a country where ‘socialist’ is seen as a deadly insult – go figure).  There is something beautifully altruistic about it all.

Any individual could decide to withold their own position yet still benefit from the system as a whole, but if everyone did that it wouldn’t work.

Interesting too that, with all the paranoia about ‘surveillance society’ so many people are happy to voluntarily let Google collect details of their every movement.  Is there a conscious thought proces going on where those thousands of phone-owners are deciding that they trust Google, or deciding that they wouldn’t care if anybody knew exactly where they are?   Is this a different subset of the population to the group who are up in arms about CCTV cameras, speed cameras, Google Streetview, and so on?

Are we splitting into two sections of society where one half are perpetually worried about invasions of privacy while the other half broadcast their position on a minute-to-minute basis, blog their deepest thoughts and tweet their shallowest?   And are there people willing to give away their personal information to Google bu unwilling to let the government have it?  Mind you, I can’t see how you can be paranoid about the government, believing they have the time and inclination to track everything and yet not believe they can get access to information on a company’s systems.

If it comes over here, I know I won’t be taking part, but that is out of a sense of public duty more than anything else.  When I am only doing 55mph on an empty motorway it might skew the results.


One Comment so far ↓

  • Dinalt

    It’s been over here for more than a year – it’s what TomTom call HD traffic – I think their supplier is Vodaphone.
    Their latest gps units have a sim card in which also transmits the location and speed of the vehicle as well as receiving the collated information from TomTom / vodaphone. Interstingly as far as I know the information from the mobile phone uses is recieved auotmatically (ie users arent asked – but since they’re really polling the antennas / boosters not individual phones i guess they can justify it that way (ie they’re looking at a mass of phones in an area not individuals as such – not to say the government might not want more granular information…)