If the NSA and GCHQ can be considered big brother, then Google could be your little brother. You know, the stereotypical sibling that is always tagging along; except with a twist. This little brother, with you no matter where you go, also has a perfect, photographic memory, of the places you’ve been.
For Those That Enjoy being Tracked: Google Timeline
On July 21st Google unveiled its newest service: Google Timeline. This app is described by Google as a “…useful way to remember and view the places you’ve been on a given day, month or year.”
To be honest, this shouldn’t be a surprise. And it’s obvious that they have had this capability for a long time: at least since they released the Latitude app in 2011 which was a more raw, less polished version of Timeline.
The app has the capability to remember everywhere you’ve been, when you arrived at a location, what mode of transportation you used to get there, how long you stayed, and how you left that location. It even plots your routes on a map for you. Furthermore, it links any pictures you took to that place and displays them chronologically as well. This app gathers all this information from GPS tracking and through use of Google Maps and other Google services.
You can then recall any day and see where you went that day. Tech savvy individuals seem to be eating this up. It’s true, this app is an easy way to remember that one-off restuarant you visited that one day, that great jogging route you took last week, or the last time you went to the gym (if you need a reminder of that, you should cancel your membership).
Oh, and if it Google gets it wrong, for instance by just putting the name of the neighborhood or nearby subway station instead of the actual location or store- well you can correct that.
Creepy vs Not… Someone is Being Naive
Yes, that’s right, as if spying on your home WiFi, saving every keyword you’ve ever searched, and tracking iPhone users as they surfed the internet (even after opting out) wasn’t enough; Google tracks everywhere you been.
Actually, I misspoke; like I touched on above, this shouldn’t be news for you, this is nothing new for Google. If anything, I suppose it’s better that they have become a little more transparent with the information they are collecting.
However, one side of this creepy vs not is being totally naive.
Maybe it’s me. I consider myself a progressive thinker- not afraid of change in the least. It simply bothers me how much of their personal lives people have surrendered in the name of technology. Between Facebook, Twitter, and dating sites alone we give up nearly our entire being. What makes us an individual. This doesn’t even include the information that we think is private being collected by third parties and personal data brokers.
And in order to silence those pessimistic ‘doomsday, apocalyptic, massive data is bad’ types like me (I say that sarcastically, I’m not a doomsday prepper or anything) Google has made it easy to delete locations you’ve visited (had dinner with your ex? Better delete that rendezvous before your girlfriend comes across it) or turn off this feature completely and not be tracked. Or rather, not be told you’re being tracked through Timeline. But my money is on the fact that they are still harvesting your data. How would anyone know if flipping that little slider to opt out has an effect either way?
Or maybe it’s the tech savvy who are being shortsighted. As Anders Bylund from the aptly named Fool.com says, “Call me naive (and I know that some of you will do exactly that), but I’m convinced that Google won’t use my detailed location records for evil.”
I’m not saying that Google will resort to ‘evil’, however, they are a company, and if they see a way to increase their bottom line, they are going to do it.
In the society we live in, if you aren’t in on the latest trends then people give you that stare. ‘Oh, you don’t use Facebook? What’s wrong with you.’ And giving an answer about being concerned about your privacy only deepens the suspicious questioning- as if you just confessed to being abducted by aliens.
This sentiment comes from the undertone in society that only criminals and those who have something hide are concerned about their privacy.
Lest we forget where the NSA and hackers fall into all of this centralized data about millions of people’s locations and routines.
Maybe it’s Just Me
Is Google Timeline useful?
I say nay: an umbrella is useful, a stoplight is useful, even a cell phone is useful.
The following quote is from a post on VentureBeat.com reviewing the Google Timeline app. Really, do we need this…
When I tapped on “You visited 8 months ago,” I see the timeline for the day I was there last. In this case, I knew I’d been to Schroeder’s [which is a restaurant] in the past, but I didn’t remember exactly when. Now it’s easy to see, right from within Google Maps.
Oh, thank heavens! Now you know you ate at a restaurant that you probably nearly forgot about 8 months ago! I’m all ears for how this is useful in anyway.
How many places do you go that you can’t remember (or even need to remember) that one club with that great DJ that one night a few weekends ago (chances are, you weren’t alone, just ask someone!)? Is your life really that exciting that you can’t remember? Have we gotten so lazy as a society that we have to give ourselves away in order to remember a place with that amazing tiramisu? There has
got to be an alternative. Call me dramatic- you wouldn’t be the first- but I can’t help but think we are giving ourselves away for very little in return.
I guess my problem lies in people connecting with data more so than with humans. And that is the way society is going. Next time you are walking down the street or waiting on the bus or train, or even at a restaurant, look around and take stock at how many people have the omnipresent glow of their phone on their cheeks.
Perhaps it’s just me. Maybe I should just shut up and get with the program and relinquish what little privacy I have left.
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