‘Traffic API hack’ is chapter 18 of Insights from the Future, a book I’m writing about technology, innovation, and people … from the perspective of the future. Subscribe to my newsletter to keep in touch and get notified when the book publishes.
July 5, 2029
Can software make you slow on the road?
Google says the answer is yes, claiming in a lawsuit filed yesterday in Northern California district court that upstart mapping and driving directions competitor NuMap is misreporting traffic data in an attempt to slow down Google Maps users — and speed up commute times for its own customers.
“NuMap fraudulently reported high volumes of traffic on the most direct routes,” says Google lawyer Jennifer Laurentian. “That resulted in Google Maps sending traffic via longer and slower paths, and ensured that NuMap users had fast, traffic-free drives.”
Some commutes dropped from 45 minutes to only 15 minutes, anecdotal driver reports suggest.
NuMap’s hack — if Google is right — is only possible due to recent legislation. ‘OneMap,’ created by law just 11 months ago, requires mapping and directions companies to report traffic conditions to a central server via a traffic API, a piece of code that connects two platforms. The idea was to give cities complete insight into vehicular volume on their roads. The side benefit was supposed to be that each individual mapping company would have a more complete view of all traffic, so that traffic could be spread across all routes intelligently.
The ultimate goal: reducing congestion.
With everyone in possession of full real-time driving data, overall driving conditions should improve. Individual drivers sometimes are directed to take a suboptimal route, but at a full fleet level, early trials suggested that commutes improved by 15% … reducing both time on the road and vehicle emissions.
Perhaps inevitably, however, it looks like at least one of the companies found a way to use the system for unfair advantage.
“NuMap has been advertising ‘50% faster than Google Maps’ for almost six months now,” industry analyst Patrick Nolan told me. “And they’ve backed that up with independent studies that show pretty much the same thing.”
Those same independent reports indicate that routes suggested on Google Maps started to slow down at about the same time. While there’s no proof that the two are connected, there’s strong circumstantial evidence that NuMap was monkeying with the data. One Google engineer, frustrated with inconsistent results, drove the routes Google Maps told him not to drive due to congestion … and discovered they were almost empty.
If the allegations are true, it’s a major misuse of the OneMap system, a San Francisco city employee told me. And it could result in the system being temporarily shut down, or in NuMap losing its access to traffic data from other competitors.
But NuMap CEO Josh Franco is defiant.
“These are ridiculous allegations,” he said in a public statement. “We look forward to having our day in court and proving them false. And meanwhile, we’re still providing the fastest directions to our customers, every single day.”
Again, this is a chapter from Insights from the Future, a book I’m writing about technology, innovation, and people … from the perspective of the future. Subscribe to my newsletter to keep in touch and get notified when the book publishes.
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