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Opinion 216 Shares 4 comments

Think your life is interesting? Take a look through your Google Maps Timeline

I took a long hard look at eight months of my life in Google Maps Timeline, which documents your movements with disturbing accuracy. What started out as a fun way to kill a few hours began to lead to self-reflection, and the ice-cold data ended up teaching me a few things I'd rather forget.

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A look inside my personal data mine. / © ANDROIDPIT

The new year demands some self-reflection and contemplation. Google Maps Timeline seems like a fun way to this, so, on an overcast February afternoon, I press play on the Police's Every Breath You Take and dive into my Google Maps Timeline.

My timeline dates back to June 2015 and a trip to Berlin (I was living in Munich at the time). I can immediately see my Berlin taxi driver for the outlandish scam artist that he was, taking the most indirect route imaginable from the airport to my destination as he merrily chatted about the weather.

Several months on, I witness the day I moved to Berlin (an incredibly boring seven-and-a-half-hour straight line) and then the web of lines indicating when I moved apartments.

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Here's the not-so-economical route my taxi driver took when I arrived in Berlin. / © ANDROIDPIT

Flicking through the days, I'm lured into making corrections to my data, which Google sometimes gets wrong. When I didn’t walk but cycled (slowly, I suppose) I edit it. In the travel options, there is a ludicrous number of choices. I can decide, retrospectively, that I surfed to work, or took a funicular to the cafe round the corner, making my life seem much more surreal and interesting.

Other options include Nordic walking and kitesurfing. In reality, I use only three of the available travel options. Google is good at making me feel incomplete. Why don't I travel on horseback or by snowmobile more often, when these are things people clearly do?

Of the 26 highlights Google has selected for January 2016, the first five are me being at work

There are pleasant moments, too: I find the time I got lost in Slovenia for four hours; I aerially survey long summer days in the park. It's nostalgic and hypnotizing; I feel omnipresent, navigating my past in four dimensions, zooming in and out on particulars, correcting inconsistencies.

After a few hours of this, however, the experience begins to become strangely dissociative. I forget that I'm viewing my own past activity, and begin to see it simply as anonymous data. I observe my past movements with a disinterested eye, analyse my activities with loveless indifference. Why does he keep going to the same bar? Why does his life largely exist in a small triangular wedge of the city?

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A nice summer's day in the park or the mindless wanderings of an insignificant ant? / © ANDROIDPIT

Google estimates that I have visited 73 places (plus 96 unconfirmed) in the past eight months, spread across four countries. The top four places are past and current apartments and workplaces.

In sixth place is my favorite bar, which, Google tells me, I have visited on 11 occasions. Is this too many or too few? The data offers no answers, just an ambiguous figure staring up at me from a blank background.

I demand more information. I want to know how long, in total, I’ve spent in each place, down to the minute. I want the average number of times I visit places by week and month. I begin to lust over data, which also feeds self-deprecating questions.

What was my busiest day, and why was it so busy? Am I doing enough with my life? Should I travel more, have a more varied routine? Looking at a plot of the whole eight months, I see an upward trend in activity, reassuring me somewhat. But then, of the 26 highlights Google has selected for January 2016, the first five are me being at work.

Timeline offers no easy answers, but it does provide a strange, if incomplete, peak inside a past that, for me, at least, was largely forgotten. At the end of it, there are now several places I'd like to return to, and I discovered that my life is largely lived in a small section of a huge city that I have spent nowhere near enough time exploring.

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Google Maps Timeline made me wonder whether I travel enough. / © ANDROIDPIT

Although Timeline does a decent job of making things pretty, organizing out-of-city excursion into trips and making nice blue graphs, you can still feel the churn of raw data beneath. And seeing your life summed up in this way is a little disconcerting: I felt more anonymous the more I explored it.

I opted in to Location History a long time ago, without giving it much thought, but now, seeing the wealth of information it provides (and what you see on Timeline is really a toe in the ocean), I am thinking of disabling the option. It's an intriguing way to spend a few hours, but I don't see a great deal to be gained from it: perhaps it's better for Google than it is for me.

Do you have Location History turned on? Have you explored Google Timeline? Let us know in the comments.


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  • Hide yo kids hide yo wife....

  • Mark G. 8 months ago Link to comment

    I personally have everything including location turned on, maybe I should be less comfortable with Google logging my every move - if Governments stated that they were logging my every move I'd be an unhappy Chappie.

    Peace ✌

  • Randy O. 8 months ago Link to comment

    Personally the first thing I do whenever I set up my Google account while logged in to Google account open privacy settings ,I go down the list and turn off or stop everything on the list. Sometimes you have to click on the off switch several times, I guess Google would prefer I leave there tracking data on. And last thing is optional out of Google advertising. ,and Google cards. No Google + ,go to time line and check that out Google keeps records of everything that you have ever checked out from years ago if you have never been to your time line and delete. When I delete mine is scroll to delete from beginning of time. Google has it from the beginning and also I turn off voice search history, if not Google has a recording of every thing you have ever said to Google search.
    Guess my point is Google is a great search engine and also great at recording everything you do,everywhere you go, everything you searched for or ask Google. I believe that Google is mot doing this because concerned about everyone's welfare and there only there to help you,because you're not intelligent enough to be on you're own.
    I've been getting by just fine without Google tracking my ever move .
    I went on way to long , but some of Googles excuses about why you need them to track everything you do is BS . MY Opinion. Maybe everyone else believe Google only wants to help.
    How is keeping records and recordings helping me? I'll shut up now,

  • Great! Now you've set me off!
    And I shouldn't be doing this right now because I'm at work. Where I can see I've been since 08:34...

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