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Google Maps

How Does Google Maps Know Where Traffic Is?

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Google Maps

Before you leave the house in the morning, a quick glance at Google Maps can tell you which routes should be avoided at all costs and which ones might get you to work a few minutes early. Google Maps can even tell you how long you can expect to be delayed should you take a route that’s more congested than usual. How can it possibly know up-to-the-minute information about your day-to-day travel plans?

The answer is one part creepy, one part cool: Google gets its information from you, according to Business Insider. The company uses the Location Services function on Apple and Android phones to track your coordinates. If you have the Location Services capability enabled for Google Maps, you're constantly sending real-time data about your whereabouts and the time it takes you to get from place to place. Google combines everyone’s data to determine the concentration of cars on the roads and how fast they are moving. (Or aren’t moving, depending on your situation.)

Over time, Google has compiled all of this traffic information to create traffic histories, which is how it can tell you if traffic is running slower or faster than “normal.” It also uses information gleaned from the Waze app, which includes updates from Departments of Transportation from across the country—that’s why Google Maps can pinpoint specific accidents.

If this is all a bit too Big Brother for your liking, you can simply disable Location Services on your phone—but you'd better hope that everyone else doesn't follow suit, or else Google's impressive calculations would be rendered completely useless.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Google Maps Is Getting a Makeover With More Icons and Colors
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Prepare to get used to some big changes to your Google Maps app. The tech giant announced in a blog post that it’s changing the tool’s design to better highlight information that’s relevant to your journey.

The first update can be seen when switching between modes of transportation. If you’re driving from your home to work, for example, Maps will show you gas stations along your route, but switch to public transit and train stations will pop up instead.

The app’s color scheme has also been given a makeover. All points of interest (POI) that appear on the map are now color-coded. Looking for the nearest restaurant? Food and drink POI are orange. Need some retail therapy? Shopping icons are blue. Hospitals (pink), churches (gray), outdoor spaces (green), and more are included in the new system.

Within the larger categories, Google has introduced dozens of specialized icons to indicate subcategories. Banks are marked with a dollar sign, cafes with a coffee cup, etc.

“The world is an ever-evolving place,” Google Maps product manager Liz Hunt wrote in the blog post. “Now, we’re updating Google Maps with a new look that better reflects your world, right now.”

This overhaul is the latest way Google Maps is evolving to make life more convenient for its users. In the past year, the app has rolled out features that allow you to locate your parked car and to check how crowded attractions are at certain times. The new design changes will start appearing over the next few weeks.

Phones with maps app open.
Google

Color key for Google Maps.
Google

Icons for Google Maps.
Google
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Facebook Just Made It Easier to Tell the Difference Between Fake News and Real Reporting
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On Facebook, fake news stories "reporting" international conflicts over Toblerones can appear alongside fact-checked journalism from trustworthy outlets. This leads to some bogus stories racking up thousands of shares while real news stories are deemed "fake" by those who disagree with them. With its latest news feature, Facebook aims to make the distinction between factual and fictional posts clearer.

As The Verge reports, articles shared on Facebook will now display a "trust indicator" icon. Clicking on it reveals information about the publisher of the piece, including their ethics statement, corrections policy, fact-checking process, ownership structures, and masthead. By providing that context, Facebook hopes that more users will make better decisions about which news outlets to trust and which to disregard.

The social media network is launching the feature with a handful of publishers and plans to open it up to more down the road. But unless it becomes mandatory for all media pages, it won't be the end of Facebook's fake news problem: Phony sites and real publishers that leave this information blank will still look the same in the eyes of some readers. Additionally, the feature only works when people go out of their way to check it, so it requires users to be skeptical in the first place.

If you want to avoid the fake news in your feed, looking for trust indicators is a good place to start. To further sharpen your BS-detecting skills, try adopting the CRAAP system: The American Library Association has been using it to spot sketchy sources since before the Facebook era.

[h/t The Verge]

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