Google Knows What You Did Last Summer!

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Recently, I was filling an application for my UK visa and I got to a part about my travel history. The form required me to list out countries I have visited in the last 10 years. In addition to this listing, I was expected to include the time of entry into and exit from these countries.

While it was easy to remember my recent travels, I struggled with the actual dates of my previous trips. I began searching for flight itineraries or letters of invitations to get these dates. Then my colleague told me about Google Maps Timeline.

Google Timeline

What exactly is Google Maps Timeline?

Google Timeline is a service that Google provides that keeps track of places you’ve visited, along with routes. While I have stumbled on this service before, I wasn’t aware that it included certain information. For example, I didn’t know that I could get the actual dates of my entry and exit from the places I had visited.

To clarify, unless you have disabled this service, Google Maps Timeline keeps track of your location and associated details. Information like your travel routes, mode of transportation and your time in and out of these places are tracked.

Breakfast Pointe-Noire
Google knows that you only went to that spot to take a picture for the gram!

Google Maps Timeline – Travel Hack or Breach of Privacy?

Now, this service certainly came in handy while filling my visa form. On one hand, I was happy that I didn’t have to spend time searching for clues about my travel history. I could easily pinpoint my exact location and the timings within a few minutes.

On the other hand, I couldn’t help but wonder whether this was a breach of privacy. Do I really want every move I make to be tracked by Google? Does it even matter at all? I mean it’s no secret that Google collects our data. So, do preferences even matter? What if this information falls into the wrong hands?

Pointe-Noire Art

There are options to turn off location history and also delete data already collected. You can read through this guide to find out how to do so. Also, if you’re not sure whether you have this enabled or not, you can confirm by going to google.com/maps/timeline. Chances are that you do, especially if you have an android device.

For some weird reason, I still believe that Google would still keep track of your information whether you choose to opt-out or not but I may be wrong. In any case, I’m still trying to figure out whether I want it or not. I would love to hear your verdict.

Do you think this is a great travel hack or would you consider it an invasion of your privacy? I’d love to know what you think…

Google Maps Timeline

16 Comments

  1. came across your blog from the nigeria tourism awards. I am from Kenya and i love your work back to the question..is there privacy in the internet really? No . thus this works as a hack for me unlike privacy invasion.

  2. Hey!
    I read your blog regularly and over time, it’s been quite helpful and entertaining.

    Check my last blogpost, I actually nominated you for the Sunshine Blogger Award.
    I could drop the link here if you don’t mind…

  3. It’s so fascinating what google can do and sometimes without knowing it! If I didn’t read your article I never find out about this google timeline!! Great to have very good quality info! Thanks

  4. It is scary. I would not voluntarily ask Google to track my travels. The sad truth is that they do whether I like it or not. British people are just looking for reasons to deny giving Visas.

    • Yes, I think given a very clear option to opt in, many people would have declined. At least there’s an option to disable this service. So that’s good. Re GBR visas…I think all countries do this, especially if you’re traveling with a Nigerian passport! 🙂

  5. I think it’s both of those things -great travel hack and privacy concern- and that’s the issue with a lot of these helpful apps like find my iPhone and others like it. On one hand, it’s great to have access to those services but the trade off is the companies have access to data you might not want to share.

    I keep location services off for almost everything cause it just doesn’t sit well with me. There are so many avenues where data is being collected that I’m sure I’m not aware of -whether harmful or not- so I’d like to have control over the ones I can. Currently my Google Maps is only set to share location while I’m using the app.

    • I completely agree with you, Tiesé. Tech these days is like a double-edged sword. I’ll look into having that selective sharing option enabled on my phone too.

      The good (or bad) thing about Timeline is that it allows you add locations manually. Maybe I could just add locations I’m interested in viewing (for future reference) later, preferably after the trip.

      • I think that’s smart! Might do the same re:adding locations, because besides being helpful like it was for you with your application, it’s nice to look back on!
        P.s love what you did with the title of this post!

  6. I actually think it’s a great travel hack. Funny thing is I discovered that Google tracked my whereabouts only weeks ago…
    I love it cos it reminds me of where I visited, exact foot paths, road ways etc. It’s amazing!

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Eromonsele. To be honest, my first instinct was excitement. But paranoia quickly set in…

      • “Breaching of Privacy” by Google isn’t really something that is hard to grasp…
        A lot of us have actually adapted to it because we search for somethings on he internet then we start seeing ads related to that item.
        In a way, that’s breach, but I guess I’m okay with it especially if it’s something only me can access…

  7. I am not sure it’s gotten to the point of turning it off but I’m still in the observation stage. One day, I might just turn it off. How about you?

    • I feel like it doesn’t matter whether we turn it off or not. For some reason, I think the data will still be collected. So, I’m leaving it on for now

  8. The first time I noticed it, I was a bit concerned about the level of tracking. It’s definitely uncomfortable, especially as they opted all users into the service without our explicit consent.

    • Yeah, it does seem weird. I’m sure consent was obtained when we clicked those Ts&Cs we barely read. Do you think you’ll be switching that feature off?

I love to hear from you!