Google has been recording the names and coordinates of wi-fi networks for several years, which has gotten the company some bad publicity. In fact, a longtime reader asked a question about that just a few days ago. Part of the reason for the objections was because few people understood what they were doing with that data.

This past week, we saw one of the fruits of that endeavor.

Go to Google Maps and get directions, and it will tell you now how long various routes will take in current traffic conditions. I used this on Friday to run an errand across the river. There were three ways to go, and Google claimed it saved me a good 15 minutes. Don’t ask me to testify that specifically under oath, but I didn’t have to slow down for traffic at all.

Based on Android phones knowing where they are and reporting back, Google can figure out how quickly the traffic is moving. Having been stuck on parkways that really are parkways in traffic, I appreciate that feature and know I’ll be using it a lot.

It’s faster for phones to triangulate against known wi-fi networks than to use GPS, so that’s why Google wants to know where the wi-fi networks are. The combination of Android phones and known wi-fi networks makes Google Maps a better product.

If Microsoft isn’t tracking wi-fi networks and Windows phones, it’s only a matter of time before they do. It keeps their mapping product competitive.