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Can Seattleites reporting phony accidents fool Google Maps?

It’s a complaint we get all the time these days: Traffic apps are pushing drivers into neighborhood streets, making them unsafe.

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We’ve talked about how you can fool these apps, but a German artist might have finally found a solution.

Ask anyone who lives in Ravenna what it’s like to get around their neighborhood when I-5 is backed-up during rush hour, or talk to people who live along Highway 99 when it backs up. Drivers whizzing through their quiet neighborhood streets to avoid the back-ups. Neighborhood roundabouts. Speed bumps or humps. Even forced turns. They can only do so much.

I spoke to the people at Waze a few years ago, when the traffic app really started taking off. Upset people were reporting phony accidents in their neighborhoods to make them appear slow. A spokesperson at Waze told me there are too many checks and balances to game the system.

“Other drivers that might not be aware they’re contributing against these reports,” she said. “If you just drive down the streets and you’re going 30 miles an hour, obviously there is no accident and obviously the road is open.”

That Waze spokesperson told me it would take an army of people all reporting problems along a route for it to impact the app and show a closure.

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We found out this month that it really doesn’t take an army, but just an army of cell phones to fool the system.

Artist Simon Weckert put 99 phones in a small wagon and started walking down the streets of Berlin. All of those phones were reporting very slow movement on the street, and within minutes, Google Maps went from green to orange to red. Those 99 cell phones in a wagon going at a walking pace showed a massive slowdown, even though the street was virtually empty.

Google told the Washington Post that it does have the technology to determine the difference between cars and motorcycles on its maps. That feature has launched in India, Indonesia, and Egypt. But it has nothing to combat 99 cell phones in a wagon.

So take that, technology.

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