Although traffic data has been available on Google Maps for quite some time, the traffic information delivered by the popular mapping service was frequently stale or incorrect. In fact, estimated arrival times with traffic were so frequently incorrect, Google actually pulled the feature from Google Maps. As promised though, the company has finally decided to reintroduce the feature, but this time with improved real-time traffic data and far better arrival-time estimations.
Drivers will be pleased -- and privacy advocates will probably be infuriated -- to know that Google Maps will now take into account GPS data collected from Android-based smartphones. Rather than the old method of compiling historical data and making its best guesses on what traffic is like (eg. 'up to 50 minutes in traffic'), live data will be provided by the very commuters moving along (or I should say not moving?) in traffic.
The above is known as crowdsourcing, or at least a useful incarnation of it. Such techniques are already used by popular Internet-enabled GPS devices and apps. The popular crowdsourced GPS app, Waze, is a particularly pure and stunning example of this.
"The previous traffic feature that was removed from Google Maps last summer provided users with the worst-case traffic scenario based on historic traffic data — e.g. 'up to 50 minutes in traffic.' " a Google spokesperson told Mashable. "That feature was removed because we wanted to improve the freshness of the data. The feature that we’re introducing on Google Maps today works differently and serves a different purpose. The new time-in-traffic feature provides users with the ability to check current traffic conditions and estimates the length of travel time based on constantly refreshed data."
In order for this traffic crowdsourcing to work though, Google needs the cooperation of Android handset owners. Any user that has enabled "My Location" with Google Maps on their Android device is already beaming anonymized GPS data to Google, which in turn is used to monitor the speeds and roads which that user travels. That means most of you are probably already helping Google out on this one. In locations where there are no Android handsets, Google will fall back on third-party sources for traffic data.