Google to crowd-source traffic data

Google to crowd-source traffic data
Google announced yesterday in a blog post that it is harnessing anonymous speed and position from Google Maps (GMaps) users to improve its traffic service. As a consequence, Google is able to expand its traffic layer to cover all U.S. Highways and arterials – i.e. where and when they have users on the road. This traffic data will be available on Google Maps both on the web and on the mobile application.

As usual, Google is putting a lot of emphasis on privacy. Many other companies are using this sort of data without much talk on privacy, but in the case of Google it has to defend itself against its “big brother” status. “We only use anonymous speed and location information to calculate traffic conditions, and only do so when you have chosen to enable location services on your phone” said Google. “We use our scale to provide further privacy protection: When a lot of people are reporting data from the same area, we combine their data together to make it hard to tell one phone from another. Even though the vehicle carrying a phone is anonymous, we don't want anybody to be able to find out where that anonymous vehicle came from or where it went — so we find the start and end points of every trip and permanently delete that data so that even Google ceases to have access to it.”

Google to crowd-source traffic data
Google to crowd-source traffic data
Market landscape
In producing its own data Google de facto enters the now highly disputed market for traffic information in the United States. The tier one of the market is made by NAVTEQ and Clear Channel/INRIX, followed by TraficCast, AirSage and IntelliOne. Several additional start-ups have emerged recently such as Waze and Aha Mobile. Wireless companies have also shown their interest in that market: Networks in Motion bought TrafficGauge (March 2009), RIM acquired Dash Navigation (June 2009) and Nokia - with its subsidiary NAVTEQ, academics and transportation authorities - launched last year Mobile Millenium, a crowdsourcing traffic application trial.

Google originally launched traffic information on Google Maps Mobile in July 2006 for 30 cities across the United States; it was added to its PC version in August 2007 and regularly improved and extended to other countries since then. Google is using a variety of sources, including AirSage data - based on the location information of cell phones derived from wireless carrier cellular data – in at least 20 metropolitan markets, as well as TrafficCast for historical data. As the market leaders, NAVTEQ and INRIX preferred to stay away from contracts with Google, well known for not paying much third party content and ending up with its own, crowd-sourced solution.

As a matter of fact INRIX is bullishly down playing this Google announcement. Bryan Mistele, CEO of the Seattle-based company told GPS Business News in an email: “fundamentally Google is not a traffic company and has demonstrated in the past that it does not understand the complexity of real-time traffic information. Painting colors on a traffic map is easy to do, however at the end of the day, accuracy of the traffic information itself is what really matters. Google’s fusing of location data from Android phones with inaccurate and obsolete historical data from TrafficCast and untested cellular network data from AirSage does not provide accurate information that consumers and businesses can trust to make commuting decisions.”


Thursday, August 27th 2009

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