In its ongoing series about how Google harness the data it collects to improve its products and services, Google unveiled that it collects Google Maps Mobile data to improve its traffic layer. If you use Google Maps for mobile with GPS enabled on your phone, your phone sends anonymous bits of data back to Google describing how fast you're moving. The idea behind this data collection is that Google combines your speed with the speed of other phones on the road, across thousands of phones moving around a city at any given time to get a pretty good picture of live traffic conditions. Google said its continuously combining this data and send it back to you for free in the Google Maps traffic layers.
This idea, which we geeks call "crowdsourcing," isn't new. Ever since GPS location started coming to mainstream devices, people have been thinking of ways to use it to figure out how fast the traffic is moving. But for us to really make it work, we had to solve problems of scale (because you can't get useful traffic results until you have a LOT of devices reporting their speeds) and privacy (because we don't want anybody to be able to analyze Google's traffic data to see the movement of a particular phone, even when that phone is completely anonymous).
While Google mentions that it takes almost zero effort on your part, you might keep in mind that you better have data plan in place since your smartphone will send data, you never knew before that it does it. However, beside privacy concerns one thing is for sure: The more people participate, the better are the resulting traffic reports for everybody.
Cheers ~ Arne