Ukraine crisis: Google Maps disabled real-time traffic data in the country

Google has disabled the display of live traffic data in its Ukraine Maps app.

The app displays this information by collecting anonymous data from Android smartphones, which shows how busy the streets and different places are.

But it is now temporarily disabled in the region to protect users.

Google confirmed the change to the BBC and told Reuters it made the change for the safety of local communities, after consulting with regional authorities. Although traffic data is turned off, normal area map navigation functions will still work correctly. This data has long been used by people involved in tracking computers at important events.

OSINT, or open-source intelligence, involves everyday people using data available online, such as traffic information or satellite imagery, to build a picture of what is happening in the field.

For example, direct traffic data on Google Maps is updated by smartphones that send anonymous location information to Google. If many phone signals are slow or stalled (due to traffic), the app will update to indicate that the streets are congested.

Benjamin Strick, research director at the Center for Information Resilience, told the BBC that while this information is useful, it doesn’t give us the full picture.

“It can be useful to check the content to answer integral questions like where something was recorded, where it happened when it happened, and what’s in it,” he said.

“But sometimes it can be a little risky with a misinterpretation.

“Some people can see a clear line in the radar images and accept that it’s a buildup of traffic. We’ve seen this online where people are looking at previous images – and I noticed that it’s just power lines.

“So it’s very difficult because it can become news. It’s very important to check everything and question everything.”

As the data is provided in real-time, there is a question mark about how to protect people in Ukraine when sharing information online. Google’s disabling of direct traffic data to Ukraine helps, but Strick says there’s a huge risk in protecting people.

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