Timeline by Google: Lost in the Traces
While writing my previous post, I wanted to remember the little café we had stopped at on our first day in upstate New York.
What was the name of that place? Oh, I can find it on google maps. I’m good at maps.
I assumed I would be tracing our route on a map and locating the café that way. But once I got to the Maps page, I remembered Google Timeline. I had used the app before but had forgotten about it. It was hidden in the drop-down options menu.
There was more than a decade of my travel history displayed on the world map. It showed my travels from 2009 onward. Almost every place I had been was there. All the restaurants, stores, places I’d worked and just driven by! I spent an hour reliving my trips and recalling wonderful places I had forgotten about.
It wasn’t until later that the creepiness started to hit me. Who else was seeing this? Could someone hack into my Google Timeline page and know where I had been, when, and for how long? And, if so, what could they do with that information?
It was at this point that my writer-imagination clicked on.
What could be done with this information? Hmmm…
– A killer could predict my daily route to work and set up an ambush or an ‘accident’.
– Someone could research my travel itinerary and pose as someone I might have met on the trip as a means of getting closer to me.
– A door-to-door salesman could predict when I would be home and available!
– An employer could check to see what I was really doing on the day I called in sick.
– A sexy foreign spy would know what coffee shop I go to alone on Saturdays and make sure to be there sitting next to me. (All foreign lady-spies are sexy by default. Foreignness plus spyiness equals sexy – period.)
I am not one to see hidden conspiracies in every shadow, nor do I have a knee-jerk distrust of new technology or BigTech. So, I actually don’t mind being tracked or filmed or recorded or whatever my Alexa is doing. But then, I am also not involved in any illegal or seditious activities. So track away. I’ve got nothing to hide.
In truth, I have an appreciation for Google Timeline. Rather than just having a file of pictures from my trips that will require me to remember where they were taken and who is in the view, I now have mapped moment-to-moment tracking of the route we took. In addition, my pictures have embedded date and time data that I can then match to the map. So, if I wanted to, I could create a minute-by-minute itinerary of my trip with pictures of that moment. How’s that for a vacation slide show?
Google maps tracks me every day, and I am very cool with that. I find it both extremely handy and kind of creepy. However, unless I become a target for spies or start thinking about trading in contraband, my life is much too dull for this detailed information to be useful to anyone.
“How odd… I stopped at the guitar store on the way home. And now look, Marge, here is an ad for a deal on strings at Amazon. How do those online algorithms know so much?!”