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This New Google Maps Feature Is Either Amazing or Creepy

Google knows when you are sleeping, it knows when you’re awake… or pretty close. Google may not have that information just yet, but it does know where you are at all times. And their latest Google Maps feature lets you use that data yourself.

Google Maps “Timeline”

The new feature is called Timeline and it’s built into Google Maps on both the desktop and Android versions (no iPhone yet). It shows you any location you’ve ever been—in an easy to use time-lapse map.

What does that look like? When you choose the “Timeline” option within Google Maps, you’ll get several features:

  • A map marking all the places you’ve been today, with the route you took between them in blue.
  • An info panel showing the name of each place and how long ago you were there. You can tap them for details, including giving places custom names (like “Mom’s House,” as Google suggests).
  • A pull-down to change the day or month you’re looking at, giving you history as far back as Google has data.

A few caveats on this feature. First of all, the rollout is gradual and you may not see the feature just yet (it’s not on my desktop version of Google Maps at all). Secondly, it will only work if you’ve chosen to store your location history with Google. If location history is off, the Timeline is disabled.

Creepy, or Not So Creepy?

Given how strongly people feel about privacy, I’m sure Timeline will be an unwelcome addition to many. After all, what could possibly be more invasive than a phone tracking your movements 24/7?

But it’s important to remember that this is nothing new. Most of us already have location history enabled, and we’re happy when it lets Google or Yelp show us places nearby. The fact that this information is being collected is old hat. (In fact, you can already view your location history without Timeline, it’s just a lot less intuitive of a setup.)

Google also seems to be braced for such a reaction, and their announcement of the feature emphasizes the privacy protection:

“Your Timeline is private and visible only to you; and you control the locations you choose to keep. This means you can easily delete a day or your full history at any time. You can edit any place that appears in Your Timeline, including removing a specific location or giving a frequented spot a private… This spot will then appear right in Google Maps when you’re logged in.”

Google suggests using the feature to remember local places you’ve visited (where was that restaurant again?). For me, one of my hobbies is travel and I like the idea of looking back and seeing my path as I explored a new city, or quickly figuring out where a local hotspot was. The only downside to me is that you can’t share your Timeline with others.

Do you think Timeline is creepy, or helpful? What do you think you would use it for?