Passive crowd sourcing: How Google uses data you give them when you’re stuck in traffic

This post’s theme song.

This post on “the official” Google Blog explains how, if you use Google Maps for Mobile and have the My Location feature enabled*, your phone sends anonymous bits of data (the data is not pegged to your account) back to Google describing how fast you’re moving. With that data (from yours and hundreds of other phones), Google can get a pretty good idea of how fast traffic is (or is not) moving to use in the “arterial traffic layer” of Google Maps.

I’m sure there are some privacy folks freaking out over this, but, hey, get over it. Google says they’re tracking the data “anonymously” and hey, if you can’t trust Google, who can you trust? (That was said with a sneer for those who may be irony-challenged.) Bottomline: If you don’t like it, opt out. Don’t use Google maps or don’t let them know where you are.

However, when you do, you’re “crowd-sourcing” traffic information by, frankly, doing nothing.

I’m sure there’s a term for this (or will be soon): ambient data? passive participation?

This is a great science fiction feature that allows me to feel like I’m contributing to a cause just by being stuck in traffic.

Fortunate for me, however, I live about three miles from the office and rarely have problems in that department.

*On the iPhone, it’s enabled if you answer “yes” when the phone asks if you want to share you location with the app.

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  • Great story!

    They should put you on 60 Minutes when Andy Rooney retires.

  • Personally, I do trust Google to passively sniff anonymous info and actually keep it anonymous. I think that this type of crowdsourcing will become common as smartphones and subnotebooks become more common.

  • Dave. You’re funny. I once sat at a restaurant at a table next to Andy Rooney. I think that’s the closest I’ll ever get to his chair.

  • Interesting stuff.
    Here at, we take a more active – crowdsourced- approach.
    For people on trains and buses, we provide a way for them to use their mobile messaging devices to share what they see…and it’s been a huge hit.
    They actually send short messages describing the problem…and we help them to share it with fellow interested commuters.

    It is free and grassroots…and started by me and a few of my commuter friends. But now, in several major cities, Clever Commute is now a part of the fabric of the daily trip in/out.


  • @Joshua – Thanks for you comment. If I were Google, I’d be calling to ask how we could work together. Great idea.