Google Maps live traffic works by crowdsourcing. It determines the current traffic by aggregating information sent by many phones carried by many different traveling users.
In February 2020, artist Simon Weckert successfully gamed the system and faked a traffic jam in Google Maps. He did that by pulling a cart full of active phones and walking in the middle of roads. Google Maps system thought there were many slow-moving cars on the road and regarded that as a traffic jam. As a result, during Simon’s operation, an empty road appeared as dark red in Google Maps, as if a traffic jam was ongoing.
Flat-Earthers claimed that it proves that satellites do not exist; possibly because they did not know how the system works. It might be that they previously thought the traffic data was obtained directly from satellite imagery. In reality, satellite navigation systems, like the GPS, is very much involved in the system.
The following is how Google Maps knows the current traffic condition:
- Phones determine their position using location services, which includes GPS. GPS satellites broadcast their position and time. Phones receive these signals and use them to calculate their positions.
- Phones periodically report their current position and speed to Google’s servers using Internet connections.
- Google uses the information it gets from many many phones to calculate how many cars are on the road and how fast they are. Many cars moving slowly means traffic jam is occurring.
- Google pushes the traffic data to the Google Maps app on users’ phones, and the users will be able to see if a traffic jam is ongoing.