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Google Maps Timeline - privacy concerns or great history tool?

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?

Timeline1

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!

Timeline2

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.

Comments

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As we have nothing to hide we share our location with a few family members. It is very useful when we make a date with them. Occasionally too when we travel a friend can follow us along our route. As a tool to keep tab on teen agers....hum, they will no doubt turn off the tracking when they don’t want you to know what they are up to. And whether we turn it on or not authorities could - if they decided to - follow us through access to our providers. Shall we embrace the technology knowing it could turn against us or should we run away from it?

Hi,

I am an enthusiast for History and Genealogy.

Since 1998 I have kept records of my family in the Legacy Family Tree and since 2009 I started a personal project which I call "Geogenealogy." I am reconciling the knowledge that I have in Geoprocessing, Geography and various technologies with the proposal to establish a new way of creating a geographical journal that allows a better understanding of the habits and customs of people throughout their existence.

The records comprise all types of trips, such as: Hiking, Cycling, Automobile, Train, bus, airplane, etc.

The advantage of this method is that it is up to the person concerned to decide whether or not to share information about their displacements throughout their lives.

"History" (main science)
- "Genealogy" (auxiliary science)
- "Geogenealogy" (discipline / support tool)

For now I have so far registered.

04/23/2009 - 04/23/2019 (10 years of project)

Distance: 418.245,00 Km
Displacements: 27,155 tracks
Time: 10.168 h

As of April 23, I completed 10 years of uninterrupted registration and intend to continue until I have completed 40 years of project.

Soon I intend to publish a book about this journey and all the details involved.

Meanwhile, I publish some information from the site "Geogenealogy".

https://www.geogenealogia.info/

Any questions or information I am available.

Hugs to all Genealogists who contribute greatly to the maintenance of the history of individuals and their families.

Artur Zen

Interesting. I tried this link and leaned I'd been to a few places I must have slept through....Austria? Always wanted to go there but never made it that I know of. Same with Germany, at least in the area they showed on my timeline map. Not sure where or how they got that misinformation!

This also works on your other computers. I accessed on my laptop. Interesting. Too bad there weren't GPS units on the family's wagon. That would have been really helpful.

I wouldn't want to know that much about my ancestors. Too much minutia data and also it is very obtrusive. I wouldn't want my family to be tracking my every move - it is boring, but still, let me have some independence and trust. And because I wouldn't want it done to me, I wouldn't do it to my ancestors. Also the data that is being gathered by the tech companies can easily be used to turn against me, not because I have committed a crime, but for some arbitrary whim of someone in power.

I agree with Jane Hakes, it doesn't always get it right. I flew NYC, La Guardia to Minneapolis St Paul then on to Seattle. According to Google Timeline I flew from Atlanta to Seattle. I've never ever been anywhere near Atlanta. I was only using wifi so I figure it picked up the aircraft's wifi (Delta) then Seattle airports wifi and assumed I had flown between Atlanta (Delta's hub) and Seattle. I thinks it's fascinating. In future I will enable mobile data and GPS while on holiday so I can track where I went.

Very interesting, Geoff, and I haven't checked my timeline yet because,yes, I do like your writing, but more important - how IS your hearing??? Love your posts.

I haven't decided whether this is good or too much info being shared. If I had it for my ancestors, I'd most likely only be interested in a zoomed-out version. What year did she go visit her family in Tennessee (so I could date some family reunion pictures)? I'm tempted to turn the feature off for now (privacy concerns) but will I remember when I want it back on?

On the odd occasion that I have been logged on to a Google service, and seen the location(s) that have been picked up from my log-ins, those locations are invariably incorrrect; none has been closer than 30 miles to my real location, and sometimes even further afield. No, I don't have a smart phone to access the web at all, but a PC. As keen as I am on finding out where I've been and when and keeping a record of it, my store receipts do a good enough job for me. Aside from my genealogical research, I generally prefer to focus on large things that happen in real life, and if I'm using my phone for anything but phone calls, it's an unwelcome intrusion into that.

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