Today I Learnt: How Google Tracks Your Trip
Everyone knows that your whereabouts are being tracked through your phone but apart from the obvious candidates: Grab, Instagram or your friendly FBI agent, we don't really think much about it.
Well, many people use Google Maps to plan out their holidays and also to find their way around when they’re overseas. Well, other than being the invaluable service we’ve all come to rely on so much, you should know that Google. Stalks. You. Who knew huh? That’s right, Google Maps has a neat (or terrifying depending on how you look at this) feature that tracks your every move if you’ve enabled location sharing.
A great aid for trip planning
Accessible under the ‘My Timeline’ section of the website/application, Maps tracks your movements both overseas (and at home too) in excruciating detail. It also maps your entire day out down to the most minute detail like whether you took a car or bus from point A to B and where you spent that half your day catching up on work in a cafe.
No really, Maps can see that you’re ‘On a train’, ‘Walking’ or ‘Cycling’. To do this, the app utilises streams of data from WiFi signals and cell phone connections, and not to mention, confirming your mode and direction of travel by cross-referencing some of the searches and pins you’ve saved on Google Maps.
At risk of sounding like an advocate for a Black Mirror-esque society, there are some upsides to this nifty feature. For one, it helps you recount your steps when you're trying to recall your movements in a city you're not familiar with. It doesn’t matter when you’re doing this: whether in your room reminiscing a holiday or in the living room with your extended family. It’s really useful for telling your friends exactly where you went to so that they can plan their own trip. Similarly, this might prove useful if you were the victim of a crime on foreign soil and you need to accurately pinpoint the location of the crime to the Police.
Those who use Google Photos (yes it’s still a thing) can also cross-sync the data and track the day's events alongside the various photos geo-tagged (with metadata) to specific locations on the map. Or it'll just tell you how much times you visited that one Starbucks around the block and took shots of your favourite frappe.
But what if you want to erase your tracks?
It’s pretty simple.
1. Turn off location sharing entirely, though you’ll lose some features like parking locations and real time location sharing.
2. You also need to delete all of the existing data Google has collected. You can do this by clicking the bin icon located on the bottom right.
Whatever your views on privacy are in this modern age, it’s pretty clear that the more you give up, the more ‘benefits’ you’ll get. Whether Google can collect that information to ‘improve your life’ is solely up to you. That being said, we all know that Maps allows Google to sell aggregated data on what people search for, how they get around places and what they want to see. You’re just an unidentified, anonymous digit in a larger number describing trends in travel.
With all that’s said, Google maintains that the data is strictly 'for your eyes only'. This means that none of your personal information is being intentionally or otherwise, shared with anyone else.
The more cynical amongst us will however argue that it is pretty much impossible for Google to be 100% sure that it's just you who is accessing the data. For example, if a hacker was able to compromise a Gmail account, he'd be able to access one’s whereabouts, which by the way, comes on top having access to my emails and whatever that's connected to the Google account.
But at least now you know.
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