To safeguard citizens, Google has disabled traffic data on Maps in Ukraine

To safeguard citizens, Google has disabled traffic data on Maps in Ukraine

Google Maps live traffic functions have been temporarily blocked in Ukraine to safeguard users’ safety while the country is invaded by Russia.

The features highlight where there are traffic jams on roads and which shops and establishments are busy using anonymized location data obtained from Android handsets. According to experts, such information could provide insight into the invasion’s progress. After seeing odd “traffic bottlenecks” along the Ukrainian border on Google Maps, one open-source intelligence (OSINT) expert says he detected signs of the Russian invasion early last Thursday.

The capabilities have been removed globally, but Google says that drivers in the region who use turn-by-turn navigation will still have access to current traffic information. It’s unclear whether Google has ever turned off these capabilities in the past during crises or wars.

These kinds of unexpected discoveries are frequently found in location data provided by mapping firms. When fitness tracking service Strava posted a map of users’ activity in 2017, it mistakenly exposed the location of multiple US military locations, revealing where soldiers had been running circuits around airfields. Similarly, the geolocation features of Snapchat have been used to gather photographs and videos from the front lines of the Iraq War. The information posted in warzones via social media, with or without location data, has become a significant tool for open-source investigators, journalists, and others.

To offer reliable information, this data is usually coupled with information from other sources. Investigators were already looking into the location where traffic delays were detected outside of Ukraine last Thursday, for example, using satellite footage. The smartphone data was most likely collected from civilians who were stopped at roadblocks, rather than soldiers with Android phones.

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