Google Maps for iOS is getting a revamped Timeline, the section in Maps that aggregates all the places you’ve visited and organizes them chronologically.
Instead of simply listing all the places you’ve been by date, Timeline now offers menu items that will sort visits into categories, like city or location type. Maybe you’d like to look back on a recent trip to New York or see all the restaurants you’ve been to lately.
Google quietly knows your location — Timeline has been the subject of controversy in the past because it passively collects the names of places you’ve been even if you don’t use Google Maps to navigate to them. Location History periodically pings your phone’s GPS, and Google says it also gleans location history from searches, for example.
This type of quiet collection isn’t naturally intuitive, so people have been surprised in the past to learn about it.
It’s for a better product experience — Google emphasizes that collection of your location data helps improve its products through features like today’s update to Timeline. Maps will also tell you how busy places are in real-time — it knows this, of course, because it’s pinging lots of phones with the app installed. The tech industry often uses this argument of a better product experience in order to coax information out of users. Google obviously also needs it for targeting.
Problems arise when this data gets into the wrong hands. Google has acknowledged that users should know they’re being tracked and have more control over that data — it’s now easier to bulk-delete location history directly from Timeline. Location History can also be toggled off at any time, and Maps has an “incognito” mode that will turn off tracking when enabled so you can navigate places without the trade-off.