Google Wants Your Location for Live Traffic Reports

    August 25, 2009
    Chris Crum

Google is expanding its traffic layers in Google Maps. They’re now showing traffic conditions on arterial roads in selected cities, but is working on doing this to cover all U.S. highways and arterials when data is available.

Google is capturing this information based on the commutes of people using phones with GPS. They are also encouraging more people with such phones to enable Google Maps with My Location so that their phones send anonymous data back to Google indicating the speed at which you’re moving.

Google Maps expanding traffic layers

Keep in mind that some phones like the T-Mobile myTouch 3G and the Palm Pre, come with Google Maps and traffic crowdsourcing pre-installed. The iPhone Maps application doesn’t support it though.

Google Maps expanding traffic layers

Google presents the concept as an initiative to call upon users to help create live traffic reports that everybody can use, but there is no question that many won’t be entirely enthusiastic about the idea. Google Maps Product Manager Dave Barth talks about privacy concerns:

We understand that many people would be concerned about telling the world how fast their car was moving if they also had to tell the world where they were going, so we built privacy protections in from the start. 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.

More information about Google’s plan for traffic reporting via Google Maps can be found here and here. It’s an interesting concept, but Google Latitude creeped a lot of people out, despite Google’s privacy defense, so this probably won’t be much different. I have a hard time believing that enough people are going to be on board with this for it to really deliver accurate traffic information.

In a world that was inhabited entirely by users of the necessary phones and the will to help, it could be possible, but I think we have a ways to go before we get to that point. What are your thoughts on the concept? By the way, I hope checking Google Maps info on your phone while driving isn’t considered as dangerous as texting while driving