Google temporarily disables live traffic data and location features from Ukraine in order to protect local communities, amidst ongoing Russian invasion
Google said it has temporarily disabled for Ukraine Google Maps tools providing information about live traffic conditions and how busy places are.
The company said it made the move to protect the safety of local communities after consulting sources including regional authorities.
The tools include the Google Maps traffic layer and live information about how busy places such as stores and restaurants are.
The information is provided based on live, anonymised location data gathered from Google’s Android smartphones.
The company said that while the information would not be accessible globally, traffic data was still being provided to users within the country using turn-by-turn navigation features.
Fighting is ongoing between Ukrainian and Russian forces, which invaded the country on Thursday. Since the conflict began nearly 400,000 civilians have fled into neighbouring countries.
Outside observers have already made use of Google’s traffic data to gain insight into the progress of the invasion.
Early last Thursday researchers detected an unusual “traffic jam” at a point where satellite data had already revealed a gathering of Russian military vehicles within Russia near the Ukraine border.
The “traffic jam” was believed to be one of the first indications of the beginning of the Russian invasion, hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin officially announced the attack, said Professor Jerry Lewis of California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
According @googlemaps, there is a “traffic jam” at 3:15 in the morning on the road from Belgorod, Russia to the Ukrainian border. It starts *exactly* where we saw a Russian formation of armor and IFV/APCs show up yesterday.
Someone’s on the move. pic.twitter.com/BYyc5YZsWL
— Dr. Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) February 24, 2022
He indicated on Twitter that the unusual activity was most likely not tracking soldiers’ smartphones, but rather the movements of drivers who had been halted by roadblocks as the military convoy advanced.
“Someone’s on the move,” Lewis wrote on Twitter at the time.
Location data has at times revealed more information than was intended.
In 2017, when fitness app Strava released a map of users’ activity, it unintentionally revealed the locations of several secret US military bases, where soldiers had been running laps around airfields.
In 2012, when antivirus entrepreneur John McAfee was a “person of interest” in a criminal investigation, news website Vice published a photo of him with editor-in-chief Rocco Castoro.
The photo’s EXIF metadata included GPS coordinates indicating that McAfee was in Guatemala, just over the border from Belize.
McAfee was later arrested in Spain and died in prison while awaiting extradition to the United States on tax fraud charges.