I just found this article that I had written a couple of years ago but hadn't published yet. Here goes...
Google Maps Timeline
When I first saw it, I was shocked. I felt exposed and even a little betrayed. Then the genealogist in me kicked in and I did not feel so bad. If you use a smart phone, and have not intentionally turned off the location history settings, my guess is that you, too, will be in for a surprise when you visit www.google.com/maps/timeline for the first time.
Google Maps Timeline is a service that tracks where you have been … well … where your phone has been. It shows the route that you took to get to the grocery store and back. It displays the exact times that you were on the move. It even guesses the names of the buildings you entered.
Without any effort on my part, Google Maps created a timeline of my movements. So far today, I have traveled 42.3 miles. I began at my home at 602 Syringa Place in Caldwell. Apparently, it took me exactly 16 minutes to go the 9.4 miles to get to the job site where I checked to see if the basement was leaking from last night’s rain. Thankfully, they’ve now sealed the cracks. It shows that I was there from 8:17-8:26am. Yep. Next, I traveled 20.6 miles, which took 29 minutes, to see Dr. Kammer in Nampa. My wife has been telling me to get my hearing checked, and so today, I did. My appointment was for 9:15am, but Google Maps Timeline shows I arrived twenty minutes early and that I left at exactly 10:21. It did not catch that I stopped off at the car wash between departing the doctor and arriving home, but it does show the precise route I took. I made it home in time for my staff meeting with eight minutes to spare. Isn’t this incredible?
The private citizen in me might think that Google knows a little too much about me and where I’ve been. In fact, for the first time right now, I’ve adjusted the dates in the upper left and learned that Google knows my every move dating back to July 2013. I had no idea!! In the wrong hands, I suppose this data about me could be dangerous. I am certain Google uses this to target me with relevant advertising. And good thing I’m an honest, faithful husband because I would not mind a bit if my wife got ahold of my Google Maps Timeline.
With the right intentions, just think how powerful this data is. Oh to have an every minute accounting of my ancestors’ movements. While that is not possible, in a way I now have a digital journal – a day-by-day history of my personal travels. On October 26, 2014 it shows I was in Tokyo enjoying our genealogy cruise. On Saturday, October 19, 2013 it reminded me of the seminar I presented to the Anchorage Genealogical Society. It shows my arrival at the airport, the trip to the hotel, the walk to the conference center, lunch at TGI Fridays, and to my astonishment, it even had a picture I took of the standing ovation I received at the end. How it linked that in to my timeline is beyond my understanding, but fascinating!
I’ve hesitated for years to jump on the get-my-teenagers-a-cell-phone train (I did get them a “dumb-phone”), but this may be the thing that convinces me to let them have a smart phone. Although I trust them, I sometimes would enjoy having a minute-by-minute accounting of where they really are. Did they really rake the neighbor’s leaves like they said they did? Even more practically, where were they standing when both my 16-year-old and my 14-year-old lost their phones this winter? It was only after the two feet of snow melted and after we filed an insurance claim that we found the phones. And if one of us were really living on the edge, I suppose that Google Maps Timeline could help establish an alibi.
If you have read this far and have not yet visited www.google.com/maps/timeline, you must either really love my writing or you are nervous about what you will discover. If the privacy thing is just too much for you, Google makes it simple to turn off or pause your location history. Visit https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/3118687 for instructions. For Android users, go to Settings > Location > Google Location History to turn it on or off on your phone. For iPhone users, go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services.
So…what do you think? A little too much information or a fantastic history tool? What did you find when you checked your timeline? Or when you checked your husband’s timeline? Hopefully you confirmed it really was him who drove to the flower shop on Valentine’s Day. Otherwise you might have a secret admirer.