Google Maps Hacks

A virtual traffic jam caused by 99 phones in a handcart

The performative intervention Google Maps Hacks, that Simon Weckert staged in different spots in Berlin consisted of the artist loading 99 GPS-enabled smartphones into a handcart and walking back and forth around the streets. The apparent aggregation of slow-moving mobile users led the Google Maps algorithm to mark these streets as congested, effectively causing a virtual traffic jam. In consequence, users of the service were rerouted to avoid these areas, literally changing how many people navigated the city within those hours.

Simon Weckert is a German artist born in Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz) and currently based in Berlin. His installations and hybrid objects reflect on the social implications of current technological systems and their power dynamics.

While the field of critical cartography has long established maps as a tool for control, their impact has changed significantly since Google made them searchable and zoomable. Weckert's performance highlights the power of digital maps over citizens' behavior and how they consequently influence urban environments. An example of this is the emergence of many businesses integrated with Maps, including ridesharing apps, dating platforms, and Airbnb which have transformed how many people engage with their urban contexts.

The symbolic significance of an individual fooling one of the most powerful tech companies in the world by demonstratively strolling past their German headquarters in Berlin with a handcart is not to be underestimated. After the project received a lot of media attention and was exhibited internationally, Google commented on the work by saying that they "appreciate creative uses" of their services, because it helps them improve over time.

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