Map data is not perfect and users are too trusting. They believe maps to be accurate, and the map data that GPS receivers, online maps and smartphones rely on is riddled with a thousand insignificant errors that show up in unexpected cases. Whenever we read a story about some driver getting themselves into trouble because they followed the directions their GPS receiver or phone gave them, that’s what caused it.
Take, for example, last month’s incident where Google Maps’ response to a traffic accident was to route traffic heading toward Denver International Airport along a private dirt road that was muddy and nearly impassible due to recent rains: about a hundred cars got stuck. That Google Maps thought the muddy part of East 64th Avenue was a viable route would not likely have been spotted were it not for the accident; said accident routed dozens of drivers along an unfamiliar route that they had no real option other than to trust Google on. [Jalopnik]
Meanwhile, see Dan Luu’s Twitter thread on Google Maps (and other map providers’) errors, their persistence, and the trouble it can sometimes take to get them dealt with.
The Wall Street Journal goes in-depth on a problem Google Maps has had for years: fake and deceptive business listings posted by scam artists that crowd out legitimate local businesses—as many as 11 million such listings at any given moment, according to experts.
Online advertising specialists identified by Google as deft fraud fighters estimated that Google Maps carries roughly 11 million falsely listed businesses on any given day, according to a Journal survey of these experts.
They say a majority of the listings for contractors, electricians, towing and car repair services, movers and lawyers, among other business categories, aren’t located at their pushpins on Google Maps. Shams among these service categories, called “duress verticals” inside Google, can snag people at their most vulnerable.
Those experts and Google disagree as to the extent of the problem. (Which is exacerbated by how easy it is to set up a business listing.) And the scam artists aren’t simply displacing local businesses: they’re resorting to outright extortion: pay up, or we’ll swamp you with bogus listings. [Engadget, The Verge]
A lot of what we refer to on online maps as “satellite imagery” actually isn’t: the high-resolution stuff is usually taken from airplanes. This can be a point of confusion for some—and, according to this Twitter thread from Google Maps co-creator Bret Taylor, also a point of contention for the Google Maps team before it launched. Some engineers felt that calling the layer “Satellite” was factually incorrect—because of that aerial imagery—and therefore shouldn’t be used; others argued for “Satellite” based on label size and usability studies. It nearly got called “Bird Mode” as a compromise. [Boing Boing]
Apple now has a fleet of cars collecting data for Apple Maps. Since they’ve been making a point about consumer privacy lately, this page lists where their cars are going to be in the coming weeks. (AppleInsider notes that some of that data collection is pedestrian-based.) It turns out Google has a page for Street View data collection that includes similar information, though it’s far less granular: windows of several months, whereas Apple tells you where it’ll be within a two-week timeframe.
The Verge’s Dan Seifert tries out Google Maps and Waze on CarPlay, and concludes that “neither Google Maps or Waze are particularly compelling compared to their Android Auto counterparts or even Apple’s own Maps app.” The unkindest cut: “If I’m traveling somewhere unfamiliar, Apple Maps is just more reliable to use than Google Maps or Waze in CarPlay, which is frankly surprising to say.”
“Google wants to know where you go so badly that it records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to,” the Associated Press reports. Their exclusive investigation discovered that “many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you’ve used a privacy setting that says it will prevent Google from doing so.” Basically, turning the “Location History” feature off doesn’t stop Google apps from recording your location at various junctures: your location data may still be found in places like “My Activity” or “Web and App Activity,” for example. Google insists its descriptions are clear; critics are calling Google’s hairsplitting disingenuous, disturbing and wrong.
Google is assigning names to neighbourhoods that, the New York Times reports, have little basis in reality—but once on Google Maps, those names swiftly come into a popular usage they never had before. The East Cut, in San Francisco, was the product of a branding agency; Fiskhorn, in Detroit, is actually a misspelling of Fishkorn, taken from a typo in the source map. (Searching for “Fishkorn” works just as well, though.) How such names end up on Google Maps, and therefore get a certain canonicity, is what’s interesting: it seems to be the result of a tech giant processing diverse data with remote fact checkers and not much in the way of local knowledge. [Boing Boing]
As of iOS 12, coming later this year, CarPlay will support third-party map applications like Google Maps and Waze, Apple announced during its WWDC keynote earlier today: AppleInsider, Engadget, The Verge. Up until now the only maps available via CarPlay were Apple’s own; drivers who would rather use something else—and I know lots of them are out there—will soon have that option.
Google unveiled its future plans for Google Maps at its I/O conference yesterday. They include an augmented reality mode that combines Google’s Street View and map data with the view through your phone’s camera and “assistive and personal” features that add some artificial intelligence to recommendations and reviews. The social and recommendation features are coming this summer; no word on when or if we’ll see the AR mode. AppleInsider, Google Blog, Engadget, The Verge.
We’re almost at the end of the week of Mario on Google Maps. Announced for March 10 (“MAR10” Day), the temporary feature changed the navigator arrow into Mario driving his cart. Announced for both Android and iOS, but for some reason it never turned up in Google Maps on either my iPhone or my iPad, so I didn’t rush to post. [Business Insider]
Public transit navigation now includes wheelchair accessible routes, as of yesterday: “this feature is rolling out in major metropolitan transit centers around the world, starting with London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston, and Sydney. We’re looking forward to working with additional transit agencies in the coming months to bring more wheelchair accessible routes to Google Maps.”
Slashgear looks at the new Google Maps APIs for gaming, which, I guess, enable developers to build real-world games on top of Google Maps. Note that Pokémon Go is not built on Google Maps: I suspect this outcome means that Google has noticed that.
Artur Grabowski spent most of 2017 testing three mapping apps—Apple Maps, Google Maps and Waze—to see which app was the most accurate in terms of travel time to destination. His questions: which app estimated the shortest travel times, which app actually got him to his destination in the least amount of time, and how much did each app over- or underestimate travel times? In the end, based on 120 trips in the Bay Area, roughly 40 using each service, Artur found that Apple’s estimates were the most reliable (indeed, Apple underpromised and overdelivered), but while Waze promised the shortest travel times, those promises were usually overly optimistic; it was Google Maps that provided the shortest travel times.
Why does Apple underpromise and overdeliver, while Waze does the opposite? Artur suspects it’s because Waze needs to monetize its app with ads, and Apple doesn’t:
For Apple, Maps is a basic solution for its average user who wants a maps solution out of the box. Apple Maps does not directly drive ad or subscription revenue for Apple so there is less reason for Apple to incentivize iOS users to use Apple Maps over other solutions. However, Apple does care about user experience, and sandbagging trip time estimates so that users arrive at their destination on time results in a great user experience. Hence, I believe that Apple is intentionally conservative with estimated arrival times.
At the other extreme, Waze (Alphabet) makes money through ads when you use their app. What better way to get people to use your navigation app than by over-promising short trip times when no one takes the time to record data and realize that you under-deliver? If an unsuspecting user opens Apple Maps and sees a 34-minute route and compares that to 30 minutes in Waze, the deed is done. Now Waze has a life-long customer who doesn’t realize they’ve been hoodwinked and Waze can throw at them stupidly annoying ads.
Justin O’Beirne’s lengthy analyses of Google Maps and Apple Maps are always worth reading,1 and his latest is no exception. Looking at the rapid proliferation of buildings, areas of interest and other examples of Google’s Ground Truthing program, Justin discovers that Google’s buildings data are a product of its satellite imagery, its places of interest are a product of its Street View data, and its areas of interest (the orange-shaded areas that indicate business districts) are the result of combining those stores of data.
…so this makes AOIs a byproduct of byproducts[.]
This is bonkers, isn’t it?
Google is creating data out of data.
This is slightly more than Google’s competitors are able to match. As always, Justin’s analysis is worth reading in full, and comes complete with before/after animations that make his point visually clear.