Google Maps Charts Your Location even when You Are Off the Charts


One of our co-founders, Wayne Gosselin, did not want anyone to know his geographic location, and he would have preferred for the world to temporarily forget his phone number.

He was on vacation in Gettysburg, Virginia, visiting family. Wayne is a popular person, and both his father and sister wanted him to stay with them, so he compromised by divvying up his nights. On his way back from his father’s, he noticed an evening storm brewing on the horizon. So he looked at his Google+ to find out whether it was going to hit his sister’s house.

Google+ gives you pertinent information, such as weather and mapping info. But when he brought it up, he was immediately greeted by the message: “You have 20 minutes to arrive at unknown place.” This was strange because the needle designating “unknown place” was hovering just above the location of his sister’s house.

The place was unknown because the street where his sister lived had not been uploaded to the Google Maps database. And yet Google was still intelligent enough to deduce exactly where he was going and when he would arrive.

Wayne did not even have the GPS on. Through his data network alone, Google Maps was able to guess his location and destination accurately. Even scarier perhaps was the app’s ability to chart his location even though the location was not in its database. If software can do that with location, it can or will soon be able to do that with purchasing patterns we might not even recognize, ourselves.

That is a hallmark of technological progress. But it is also scary, considering that humans ultimately direct reconnaissance. Companies can zero in on you without approval and ‘spy’ on your habits.

You can find out how much Google knows about you by navigating to your Account Settings.