Google Maps Timeline: The Argument-Killing Machine

by | Jul 6, 2023 | Living in the Future | 0 comments

“We haven’t been to X in ages.”

“What was the name of that little Italian place we stopped at the day we went to Y?”

“Yes, we went to Z on our anniversary. I remember buying the tickets!”

Little conjectures, quibbles, and memory lapses like these are the grout between the bricks of any relationship. They attempt to establish and cement a common frame of reference for places visited, foods eaten, and events witnessed together. And because human memory is like looking into a dark room via its reflection in a broken mirror, most of the time, we’re wrong about the details.

Enter Google.

Specifically, a feature of Google Maps: Timelines.

Many of you breathed a sigh of relief when Google took over navigation of your every venture past the end of your driveway. Dashboard Tom Toms, clunky factory-issued nav systems, and stacks of printouts from Mapquest (I’m very guilty on the latter) gave way to a pre-installed app on a smartphone most of you were carrying anyway.

No more out-of-date digital maps. No more frustrating interfaces. No more flipping pages at stoplights. Just simple voice instructions from point A to point B.

But—and some of you may not realize this—Google Maps doesn’t just navigate. It also logs your trips. And not just the ones where you asked it for turn-by-turn directions. If you stop in the parking lot of a store, restaurant, or park, Google will assume you visited, and they’ll make note of it on what they call your Google Timeline.

Now, there are two ways to look at this.

On the one hand, this is creepy, certainly a privacy leak, and represents another intrusion of large corporations into our personal lives.

On the other, it’s a cool way to look up where you went when. Especially if your significant other’s recollection of events differ from yours. Truth time: my wife and I have used it for this more than once.

I’m not here to judge. Personally, I’ve mostly written off my own privacy when it comes to being a citizen of the digital age. Instead, I make use of the opportunities the technology affords. I look up restaurants I’ve been to and parks I’ve visited. I can contextualize trips and figure out how long it’s actually been since I’ve eaten at a teppanyaki restaurant. The timeline will also tell you stuff like how far you drove in the past month, in case you’re curious about semi-useless statistics. Or updating your car insurance paperwork.

For those of you who think of features like this as a neat offshoot of the technologizing of human existence, enjoy! For anyone who considers this an egregious invasion of their personal information and yet another trust violation by Big Data, you have the option to disable Google Maps’ recordkeeping.

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