oogle has decided to suspend a feature of Maps in Ukraine: real-time traffic. The risk that it could be used to inform about troop positions has been considered.
This is another unexpected development in the war between Ukraine and Russia since February 24, 2022. Faced with the military invasion of the former by the latter, Google has taken the decision, after consultations with the Ukrainian authorities, to cut the real-time traffic on Google Maps on the entire territory.
No more real-time Google Maps in Ukraine
This temporary neutralization follows an observation: the mapping and navigation service was used to track the invasion of Ukraine, reported the Washington Post on February 25. However, in the eyes of experts in OSINT (open source intelligence, with the Internet), the tool could have had a tactical interest.
The tool in question has existed for more than a decade on Google Maps. It existed as early as 2011 in beta in the United States and in several European countries, such as Italy, the United Kingdom and France. It has since been expanded to other states, such as Japan, Australia, Indonesia and in several South American nations, certainly around major urban centers.
It is not clear, however, that the Russian army needed Google Maps to operate in Ukraine. It has a large air superiority that allows it to see the situation on the ground, without being too worried by Ukrainian forces, but also radar and scouts to retrieve intelligence closer to the theater of operations.
Whatever the reality of this eventuality, Google preferred not to take the risk. Its brand image would be greatly damaged if it were proven that its services helped Moscow to advance in the country, to determine the movement of enemy troops, by observing traffic conditions, the use of certain roads or their apparent closure.
The deactivation of real-time traffic concerns the whole of Ukraine. It also appears that the service is not fully operational in Belarus and Russia, especially in the regions bordering Ukraine. This is in stark contrast to the level of coverage that exists elsewhere in Europe, with many traffic signs.
This is not the first time that geolocation and real-time traffic tracking tools have been considered a security risk. In 2018, it was a running app that was challenged because the routes joggers took could give insight into the location of secret bases, but also their size and layout.