NewTech. Google Maps Supercharges Location Sharing, Begins Drooling Over Your Data

GET READY TO never, ever be alone again. Today, Google Maps rolls out real-time sharing location, so you can share your whereabouts with any of your contacts, for anywhere from 15 minutes to three whole days. It’s a convenient feature that not so coincidentally makes it way more likely you’ll spend a lot more time within Google’s map ecosystem.

Google pitches this as a way to cut down on those pesky Where the heck are you? messages that crop up around most meetings and hang-outs. Let a friend follow along as you attempt to navigate your city’s bus system, or verify you are truly stuck in traffic again. Or notify buds you’re hanging out at this bar right now, and wouldn’t mind if someone swung by. Using the app’s new “Share location” option, you can select which contacts like to share with, how long you want to keep them in the loop (“until the end of this trip” is one choice), and they’ll get a notification or link that updates as you quest.

Along with location sharing, other new Maps features let you see, in realtime, the most popular hours for local businesses, create itinerariesfor future trips, and inform you about parking spots or special, traffic-destroying events in the area. Together, they make it easier to spend tons of time in Maps. “We want to make it easy for you to tell us what’s important to you,” says Jen Fitzpatrick, who heads up Google Maps. “We’re bringing you the information about your world without you having to seek it out.”
Don’t think Google doesn’t get something sweet in the deal here. The unspoken hope is that all this good stuff will keep you tethered to the friendly blue-n-white interface, and churn out information on the way you move.
After all, Google has made billions collecting and packaging knowledge and selling it to the right people—namely, advertisers. “Mapping, very granular mapping, could actually be a bigger source for ad revenue than search,” says Erik Gordon, who studies entrepreneurship and strategy at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “We go places all the time—we don’t search all the time.” Maps could give Google insight into your daily rituals and habits. Are you constantly sharing your trip to the coffee shop Monday morning? Future Google might give a competing vendor a chance to push an ad or coupon: “Get a free cray-vanillay-lattay!”

But the search giant knows emphasizing the social and convenience factors could make users more comfortable with handing over their location data. “If you can couch it in social, it’s your friends that can track you—not that Big Brother can track you, not that an ad server can track you, not that Travis Kalanick can track you,” says Gordon.
Google says it has no plans to change up how it will serve its ads from within the Maps application. But it is making a strong play against mapping competitors—namely, those working in and with car companies. They also want a piece of what’s estimated to be a $750 billion market around your transportation data.

In the meantime, though, expect some growing pains as location services hit the mainstream. Could bad actors abuse this information? Could oversharers pollute your Map with their constant updates? Google stresses the option to share will be entirely in the hands of individual users, and that the interface makes it clear when you’re sharing your location with others. (Users can also choose to temporarily hide contacts they don’t want to see on their map, via a kind of “mute” button.) But the implications of living and sharing on the map—of becoming one with the Map—are TBD.

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