Tuesday, December 6, 2022

How Google Maps is tracking the Russian invasion of Ukraine

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By combining Google Maps site visitors information with a radar picture that confirmed troops, Lewis and his staff realized an invasion was underway hours earlier than the news turned public and from 1000’s of miles away in California. Russia formally introduced its assault on Ukraine on Thursday morning, which President Biden known as “unprovoked and unjustified.”

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“In the old days, we would have relied on a reporter to show us what was happening on the ground,” Lewis mentioned. “And today, you can open Google Maps and see people fleeing Kyiv.”

Lewis’s sleuthing helps show how expertise — and particularly Google Maps — is making it so individuals even far-off can see in actual time what’s taking place , all the means right down to the road degree. What billions of individuals round the world can see from the palm of their palms displays that individuals on the floor, in the midst of troop actions, are additionally continually related to their gadgets. And in some instances these gadgets have gotten a device for civilians.

Google on Sunday made it tougher to see some Google Maps options from afar. The firm mentioned it has quickly disabled its dwell site visitors and “busyness” options on Google Maps in Ukraine.

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Google spokesperson Alex Krasov confirmed the firm made the transfer, as reported by Reuters, “for the safety of local communities in the country, after consulting with sources including regional authorities.”

On Thursday, the Indian Embassy in Ukraine tweeted an advisory to its citizens and students in the country: It suggested that if they could hear air sirens, they should search for nearby bomb shelters on Google Maps.

Google Maps, as a market leader in particular, has faced scrutiny for the way it shapes people’s perceptions of the world, drawing the borders of countries and regions differently depending on where a user is and disputes around those territories, including the representation of the border between Ukraine and Russia. In Russia, the Crimean Peninsula is represented with a hard-line border as Russian-controlled, whereas Ukrainians and others see a dotted-line border.

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Last yr, Google Maps faced criticism from researchers for its blurry images of Gaza.

Google Maps and other map applications track cellphone locations in real time, more typically to indicate a traffic jam or a car crash. But over the years, the companies have built in other capabilities, including emergency alerts and those for natural disasters to help users avoid dangers.

Google has also used “active shooter” alerts, as well as “SOS Alerts” to “make emergency information more accessible during a crisis,” the company said.

Traffic data on Google Maps on Thursday night, hours after the initial invasion of Ukraine, showed road closures near Kharkiv. It showed stalled traffic on the road closures out of the capital city, Kyiv, as well as information about train schedules, or stalled service, at subway stations in the city.

Google earlier declined to comment on the use of Maps to track activities related to the invasion of Ukraine.

The company did not confirm whether its Maps app showed any SOS alerts in Ukraine, or whether it shows a list of bomb shelters in the country. But it does give information about subway stations, some of which are being used as shelters.

In Monterey, Lewis and his team had seen a radar image from earth observation company Capella Space, which appeared to show an armed Russian vehicle unit lined up near Belgorod. The team started looking at traffic data on Google Maps, and was surprised to see a traffic jam so long before rush hour.

That told the researchers that civilians in their cars were probably being stopped at roadblocks, while military vehicles passed.

“We have so much data that shows us what a normal pattern of life looks like, that when we see deviations we can tell something is happening on the ground,” he said.

Google Maps analyzes telephone actions to estimate highway site visitors. Lewis dismissed the concept that the site visitors information was really coming from Russian troopers who had their smartphones with them. The Russian troopers have been transferring, so that might have proven clear site visitors, he mentioned. Instead, the site visitors jam was prone to have been generated from the telephones of stopped civilians, he surmised.

The ubiquity of high-quality maps in individuals’s pockets, coupled with social media the place anybody can stream movies or photographs of what’s taking place round them, has given civilians perception into what is taking place on the floor in a means that solely governments had earlier than, mentioned Steve Blank, a founding college member at Stanford University’s Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation.

But there are methods to chop off Internet and cell service, he mentioned. And what the high-tech world nonetheless can’t do is definitively say what a army will do subsequent.

“What you can still hide is intent,” he mentioned.

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