By: Aulia Yura
(12pm Thursday, Fiona Andreallo)
The fundamental characteristic of a human being is their social aspect. As a social being, it requires human to travel and gather with others because communities are built in different places. One of the essential tools to travel is a map, a representation of the physical world. The map was invented to help navigate the surface of the earth by attributing meaning to a particular space to orientate with the surrounding territory (Hjorth, & Hinton, 2013). A map usually holds a physical format on printed paper. However, ever since the invention of the computer nearly everything can be digitalised including a map. With the commercialisation of global positioning system (GPS), it is now possible to access a map on a computer and smartphone.
Digital maps have the same primary function as printed map; it gives the user an awareness of their location with the place around them. But the digitalisation has enhanced the feature in many ways. One of the most used digital maps around the world is Google Maps. Data shows that there are more than 1 billion of Google Map users, making it the most used map application in the world (D’Onfro, 2015). The domination is possible because the application can be accessed both from website and mobile phone. It comes as a default application in the Android mobile operating system, which has 1.6 billion devices used at the moment globally (Evans, 2016). The dominance does not end there as the users of Android’s main competitor; the Apple’s iOS also favour Google Maps over their native Apple Maps according to a recent survey (Sterling, 2016). Therefore it can be argued that Google Maps has integrated with the daily lives of majority internet users.
Google Maps prominent features are the navigation system where users can find direction to their desired destination. Alternatively, it can show the option of public transportation to get to the destination and bicycle lane for a cyclist. These features are the reason behind the high number of users globally, as it helps people navigate quickly. Another difference between Google Map and the traditional printed map lies in the social aspect because in Google Maps users together can define a place, give it a description, a rating, and review. This feature is one of the key attributes of Web 2.0, where users can participate by generating valuable content to inform others in the same platform (Hjorth, & Hinton, 2013). Every day the Maps continue to grow bigger as the sheer amount of users collaborate to provide details of information regarding a place.
(Google Maps Mobile Interface. Image source: personal archive)
This year Google Maps becomes more social, as it released a new sharing location feature where a user can share their precise location with their preferred contact from 15 minutes up to three days (Marshall, 2017). It enables a user to monitor the location of their contact in real time if they are willing to. It can be beneficial for a couple to locate their spouse, parents to monitor their children and a friend who got lost while looking for a particular meeting place. Farman (2012) argues that this activity can be defined as ‘participatory surveillance’ whereby a user is intentionally making their location visible to another user for the purpose of getting information and communicate. Although it can be seen as something that can potentially breach user’s privacy, this feature is not automatically running unless the user enables it. The disclosure of location in this context can be understood as a means of communication and interaction between users who already develop a mutual relationship.
(Google Maps new feature share location. Image source: https://www.wired.com/2017/03/google-maps-share-location/)
The benefit of Google Maps goes beyond an individual because in some cases it has proven to help government institution combat criminal and illegal activity. In Lithuania, the tax authorities were able to identify 100 homeowners and 30 construction companies as a suspected tax dodgers because of Street View, one of Google Map features (Dapkus, 2013). Street View enables a user to look at a 360⁰ photograph of a particular street address. The image was taken by a Google Street View car that was continuously taking pictures while moving. The tax agent in Lithuania can sit in their office and use the free application to monitor a potential tax violation. However tracking from Google Maps is just one of their approach, as they still cross-reference the information with field check before prosecuting the tax violator.
In Victoria, Australia the police was using a breakthrough technology to identify thousands of child pornography suspect secretly. The offenders were allegedly sharing images via international online networks. The software works by pinpointing computer that holds a child pornographic images which then placed against Google Maps to help confirm the location (Silvester, 2009). The software data combined with Google Maps shows that Melbourne was covered in red dots, with each dot representing a suspect’s computer. The law enforcement then will take action by prioritising the habitual offenders instead of going after all the suspect. These are some of the examples that evidently put Google Maps as a modern resource which benefits various stakeholders.
Although Google Maps have made user’s daily commute easier, several significant concerns have been raised by users. First, the personal information that has been taken accidentally by the Street View. While continuously collecting images from the Street View car, Google Maps does not differentiate which images is considered private or not. They claimed that they gather the images within public space in broad daylight (Hall, 2012). However contrary to the claim, people feels like their privacy is being violated, where their photograph has been taken while going to work and their house number visible in the photo (Snyder, 2007). To answer this concern, Google enables an option for a user to report if the Street View images are ‘objectionable’.
(Google Maps Street View. Image source: personal archive)
The second concern lies with the constant location tracking that is available in the app which they called as ‘Timeline’. It is a feature that allows a user to look at where they have been on a given day, week, or year. Other than that, by sharing their daily commute, Google can analyse the data and in turns give the user a heads up if there is traffic on the route. Despite the fact that this is a handy way to review user travelling history, some users find it to be creepy and violating their privacy. If the feature is turned on and the mobile phone is stolen or hacked, they can gain an information of users travelling habit, house location, and where they spend their time daily; which posed a real security problem (Bolluyt, 2015). Nonetheless, the feature itself is not automatically on; a user must give permission for the app to continuously track user’s location.
(Google Maps Timeline. Image source: personal archive)
The last concern is the constant feed of data to Google Maps server. By turning on mobile phone GPS feature and location history in Google Maps, users continuously provide data to be collected the app. With billions of users worldwide, the large data that is gathered can be commoditised and turning a user into an “object within a network” (Farman, 2012). The recorded movement, location, and habits are the key values that they seek to turn it into cash as we enjoy the free service. Wilken (2014) argues that this form of data collection provide a contemporary format of targeted advertising and lifestyle profiling with significant impact on user’s privacy. Users often do not realise that by making the app a part of their daily life, it gives Google an ability to capture and store their patterns of activity and interaction. Gordon (as cited in Marshall, 2017) believes that the digital map data mining could one day provide more revenue than the search engine as users travel to places all the time.
People have found the benefit of using Google Maps as it becomes a part of their daily commuting. The app consistently gain royal customers and become the most used digital map in the world. It has benefited not only individual but also law enforcement institution. However, the question remains as users continue to sacrifice their personal information for the tailored service. By granting Google a deep access to user’s daily habit, the locative app can offer a full benefit for their daily commuting. It comes down to how much benefit that the users desire to get as they surrender their private information because the decision lies with the customer at the first place.
Bolluyt, J. (2015). Google Maps’ Latest Feature: Why You Should Turn it OFF. The Cheat Sheet. Retrieved 19 April 2017, from http://www.cheatsheet.com/gear-style/google-maps-latest-feature-why-you-should-turn-it-off.html/?a=viewall
Dapkus, L. (2013). Lithuania uses Google Maps to find tax dodgers. The Age. Retrieved 18 April 2017, from http://www.theage.com.au/digital-life/digital-life-news/lithuania-uses-google-maps-to-find-tax-dodgers-20130410-2hmo8.html
D’Onfro, J. (2015). Google stock soars on earnings beat and monster buyback. Business Insider Australia. Retrieved 18 April 2017, from https://www.businessinsider.com.au/google-q3-earnings-2015-10
Evans, B. (2016). Platform wars: the final score. Benedict Evans. Retrieved 18 April 2017, from http://ben-evans.com/benedictevans/2016/7/25/platform-wars-final-score
Farman, J. (2012). Mobile interface theory (1st ed.). New York: Routledge.
Hall, J. (2012). Google accused of invading privacy with pictures of house numbers. Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 19 April 2017, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/9205486/Google-accused-of-invading-privacy-with-pictures-of-house-numbers.html
Hjorth, L., & Hinton, S. (2013). Understanding Social Media (1st ed.). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Marshall, A. (2017). Google Maps Supercharges Location Sharing, Begins Drooling Over Your Data. Wired.com. Retrieved 14 April 2017, from https://www.wired.com/2017/03/google-maps-share-location/
Silvester, J. (2009). Police home in on child porn. The Age. Retrieved 18 April 2017, from http://www.theage.com.au/national/police-home-in-on-child-porn-20090930-gcr2.html
Snyder, S. (2007). Google Maps: An Invasion of Privacy?. TIME.com. Retrieved 19 April 2017, from http://content.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1631957-1,00.html
Sterling, G. (2016). New survey says Google Maps favored by nearly 70 percent of iPhone users. Search Engine Land. Retrieved 18 April 2017, from http://searchengineland.com/new-survey-says-google-maps-favored-nearly-70-percent-iphone-users-251955
Wilken, R. (2014). Places nearby: Facebook as a location-based social media platform. New Media & Society, 16(7), 1087-1103. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1461444814543997