BEST OF THE WEB: Inside Google’s secret project to win the mobile war through maps

Google and Apple are at loggerheads, and maps are the victim.

In Apple’s latest iOS update, it got rid of Google’s Maps app and replaced it with its own, lower quality version. It’s a huge move for Apple, which usually relies upon ease of use for its devices. Replacing Google’s iconic app with one of its own is a clear signal that it wants less to do with the search giant than ever before.

But Google hasn’t stopped. In fact, as this piece in The Atlantic shows, the company is more devoted than ever to Maps. So much so, it’s working on a secret project to make it better than ever.

As The Atlantic explains, Maps became a key part of Google’s strategy when the location for a search query became just as important as the subject of the query itself.

“If you look at the offline world, the real world in which we live, that information is not entirely online,” Manik Gupta, the senior product manager for Google Maps, told me [writer, Alexis Madrigal]. “Increasingly as we go about our lives, we are trying to bridge that gap between what we see in the real world and [the online world], and Maps really plays that part.”

So Apple and Google are in a war to control the future of maps and, in a very real sense, the future of the mobile phone. The way Google intends to win that war is through maps.

And as it turns out, Google is putting a lot of effort into that plan. The building where it improves on its maps houses free food, recreational activities for staff – and a whole lot of data.

“So you want to make a map,” [Google Maps engineer Michael Weiss-Malik] tells me as we sit down in front of a massive monitor.

“There are a couple of steps. You acquire data through partners. You do a bunch of engineering on that data to get it into the right format and conflate it with other sources of data, and then you do a bunch of operations, which is what this tool is about, to hand massage the data. And out the other end pops something that is higher quality than the sum of its parts.”

As the story explains, the amount of detail that gets put into maps is “mind-boggling”.

Every road that you see slightly askew in the top image has been hand-massaged by a human. The most telling moment for me came when we looked at couple of the several thousand user reports of problems with Google Maps that come in every day. The Geo team tries to address the majority of fixable problems within minutes.

In one instance, it managed to fix a problem with Maps not showing a roundabout within minutes of receiving the complaint.

Google owns the search market. But as this piece explains, its location data may end up being its saving grace.

As we slip and slide into a world where our augmented reality is increasingly visible to us off and online, Google’s geographic data may become its most valuable asset.

Not solely because of this data alone, but because location data makes everything else Google does and knows more valuable.

Meet the 15-year-old hacker spending his days in jail

Hackers have been all over the news in the past couple of years, responsible for some of the biggest digital attacks in history. Big companies like Sony and Adobe have fallen prey to attacks, along with countless governments across the world.

Many hackers go by aliases, obviously refusing to use their real names. But some are caught. The hacker known as “Topiary” was charged earlier this year over LulzSec and its exploits. And now, a hacker known as Cosmo – responsible for hacks against Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, PayPal and AOL – has been caught.

And he’s 15 years old.

In this piece at Wired, it explains how Cosmo, known as “Cosmo the God” online, was caught as part of an FBI sting against credit card fraud. Last week, he faced court, but not before Mat Honan at Wired met and spoke to the hacker himself.

Cosmo got into hacking via online gaming. He grew up on Xbox, and played others online competitively. One day, he was knocked offline mid-match, forfeiting the game.

He discovered that this was done via a simple trick, where one gamer turns a script on his opponent’s IP address. He began using this same tactic himself. It was easy and required nothing more than off-the-shelf programs, like Cain and Able. It was a veil lifted.

Cosmo then started lifting credit card numbers by simply calling up companies like Netflix and asking for account passwords with nothing more than an email and address.

Cosmo was soon finding all manner of sources for getting information: Hulu,, BestBuy, PayPal, Apple and AOL all offered avenues into others’ accounts, where he could peep in at credit card numbers, addresses and emails.

He learned new social-engineering techniques online and likewise passed along what he knew to others. There is a constant information trade back and forth online. IRC and AIM are the user manuals to every back-end customer service system in corporate America.

Cosmo was eventually caught. But this Wired piece does a good job of looking into the hacking scene, and what exactly makes it tick. More often than not, it’s simply just for laughs.

The secret rich of Silicon Valley

The recent floats in Silicon Valley have resulted in a lot of millionaires, including original employees of companies like Facebook.

In fact, as a new piece on The New York Times points out, there are 250 employees on a list called “The Nouveau Riche 250”, who discuss plans to buy things like boats, artwork and islands with their newfound riches.

But interestingly, all of this is kept behind doors. It’s a trend among current investors and employees to keep the extravagant wealth behind the shade. And as this piece points out, it gets much more interesting.

One of the biggest reasons people here try to pretend they don’t care about the money is that some of the most successful people actually don’t.

Steve Jobs famously never cared for money, and neither does Mark Zuckerberg. Silicon Valley is interested in money, it’s just not interested in showing it off – but as this piece says, that may not be such a great thing after all.

The Valley doesn’t need to act as if it’s not interested in money – spending responsibly is a good thing. Focusing on making worthwhile start-ups grow is even better.


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