Google Maps disables traffic data that allowed Russian forces to spot Ukrainians

Google Maps has temporarily disabled its live traffic feature in Ukraine in order to protect citizens’ safety as the country is being invaded by Russian forces.

The feature typically uses anonymous location data collected from Android smartphones to show where traffic hotspots exist. However, experts have stated that this data could reveal the extent of the invasion.

The company has stated that it has decided to disable the traffic layer and life information for the safety of local communities in the country after consulting with various sources, including regional authorities. This followed an Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) report (highlighted in a Motherboard article), in which they were able to find signs of Russian invasion on Google Maps in areas with unusual traffic jams near the Ukrainian border.

Dr. Jeffery Lewis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, said Google Maps assisted in tracking a traffic jam that was actually the movement of Russian forces towards the borders hours after Vladimir Putin announced the attack.

“We all looked at the picture and were like, oh s**t, it’s coming,” he told Motherboard. So knowing that there’s a massive Russian armoured unit sitting right there allowed us to say, “Oh, I know what that traffic jam is, they’re getting on the road.”

He added, “I think big data companies often don’t want to face squarely how useful their data can be. I mean, it’s cool when we do it, right? It’s maybe less cool if the Russians were able to do something similar to, you know, spotting an offensive from Ukrainians.”

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