A patent granted to Google this week suggests the company has future plans to track where you are at all times of the day. The patent, titled “systems and methods for generating a user location history,” goes a step beyond tracking your location via GPS coordinates.
I have previously written about the personal data you’re voluntarily providing to Google when you use services like Allo, Google Home, or the Google Phone. However, the newly granted patent is more ambitious.
Google aspires to learn where you get your coffee in the morning, where you spend your lunch breaks, where you and your friends meet up for after-work drinks, your favorite places to go to dinner, and so on.
According to the patent application, using raw GPS data alone is not sufficient at determining a user’s exact location:
”Therefore, such raw location data can fail to identify a particular entity (e.g. restaurant, park, or other point of interest) that the user was visiting at the time. As such, use of the raw data in furtherance of location-enhanced services can fail to provide any contextual information that would more appropriately personalize the location-enhanced services.”
Google intends to identify the “particular entity” you have visited through collecting data from a variety of sources across multiple devices. In addition to GPS location data, the following will also be used to determine the exact locations you’ve been to throughout the day:
- Search history
- Emails sent and received
- Photographs taken
- Requests for directions
- Social media posts
- Receipts from mobile payments
Ideally, Google wants to be able to map out a day in the life of its users. Where they go, what time they get there, how long they stay, what time they leave, where they go next, etc.
If you’re not comfortable with Google collecting all of this data, you might be able to opt out:
”…users may be provided with an opportunity to control whether programs or features collect such information. If the user does not allow collection and use of such signals, then the user may not receive the benefits of the techniques described herein.”
What are the benefits Google is referring to? In return for your data, you will receive a recorded history of your day-to-day life, broken down by time and location. This could be useful if you need to retrace your steps on a particular day. Should Google get a location wrong, you will have the option to correct and revise your location history.
Without going into much detail, the patent says location histories can also be used to serve “location-enhanced” search results, as well as to “enhance social media, mapping applications, or other suitable applications.”
This is where it’s important to mention that not all patents end up going to market. Google has been granted many patents that never see the light of day, and this may just be another one to add to the list.
On the other hand, if put into practice, it could end up leading to significant advances in local search, location-based marketing, geotargeting, and more. We’ll just have to wait and see what Google does with it.
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