First Click: Google already knows if our paths have crossed

July 22nd, 2015


It’s Friday night, late, and you’re sitting at the bar. Bored, maybe a little drunk, you strike up a conversation with the next person over. You start discussing your life, as you do. Your history. And soon you realize that your paths may have crossed at a cafe you both love or a city where you both lived. You try to match dates but you’ll never really know how close you came to meeting. Until now.

Last night Google announced its new Your Timeline feature in Maps that lets you "view the places you’ve been on a given day, month or year." Like most things Google does, it feels a bit creepy, if not downright foreboding in the post-Snowden era. But like most Google services it’s also pretty fantastic when viewed optimistically.

Right now Your Timeline is, as the name suggests, private and only visible to you. But it won’t be long before some enterprising developer (or even Google) offers a way for multiple people to compare location histories and identify dates and places where paths have crossed. Where chance encounters might have happened had fate intervened. I can already guess the name: Our Timeline.

It’s the big data equivalent of discovering your wife (as a toddler) lurking in the background of a childhood photo snapped at Disney World. Or that couple who unknowingly shared the same beach as kids 20 years before their marriage.

Imagine a future where wedding invites arrive decorated with GIFs showing a couple’s divergent location histories merging to form a single path. Created automatically by Google Photos, of course, complete with slideshow.

I can also imagine several dystopian outcomes, too, but let’s just try to stay positive, ok?

Five stories to start your day

  1. Google knows where you’ve been, and Your Timeline for Maps shows you

    If you're all-in on Google services — say, if you use Google Now on your smartphone — you're likely aware of the fact that Google tracks your location to serve you useful information. What you might not realize is just how much location data Google has on you. Surprisingly enough, the company has just turned that somewhat creepy bit of info into a new feature called Your Timeline.

  2. New James Bond trailer: watch 007 uncover the truth about Spectre

    The upcoming James Bond flick Spectre has a had slow burn so far, with plotless teaser trailers and teasers for teasers for posters. Thankfully, a new trailer, released today, has put some meat on those bones. The second clip shows Bond in Mexico City, battling skeletons, clambering across rooftops, and engaging in his customary car chases.

  3. NASA's mission to Pluto is the best PR money can buy

    Spread over the course of 15 years, the cost of this NASA mission is less than it takes to run most professional sports teams these days, but it's delivered so much more joy, pride, and awesome science. The United States has earned the unqualified admiration of the international community by pushing back the boundaries of human knowledge and rekindling our passion for new discoveries.

  4. Fewer American teens are having sex, but the teen birth rate is still high

    Less than half of American teenagers over the age of 14 have had sex, according to a new CDC study. That's a significant drop, compared with rates seen in the late '80s. And the teen birth rate has dropped by 57 percent since 1991. That said, teenagers still aren't using the most effective contraceptive, the IUD. And the US teen birth rate remains higher than that of other developed countries.

  5. US surveillance drone crashes in Iraq, selfie ensues

    The Pentagon this week confirmed that one of its drones crashed in Iraq, after photos of the uncrewed aircraft began circulating on social media. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, a Pentagon spokesperson said the MC-1Q Gray Eagle drone crashed on June 16th as it was returning to base, adding that "technical complications caused a loss of communications."

Problem of the day

View post on