What Google tracks: Is there a link between search and maps?

A business name popped up as I planned the route for a separate trip nearby and it made me wonder: Would this name have popped up if I had not have earlier searched for and visited this business? Was there a connection between my activity using the Google search function and what comes up on Google Maps? And, does this connection, if it is done deep in the algorithmic mind of Google, even matter?

Testing the idea

To test this idea, I came up a place and a business where I had had almost no online connection with for over a year: — The movie theatre in the small town of Brandys nad Labem, Czech Republic. I decided to do this in a couple steps.

  1. Look up the town first, take a screenshot of what Google Maps showed, then close the app.
  2. Do a number of Google searches for movie theatres within the area in both Czech and English.
  3. Go back to Google Maps and see what looked different.

The plan seemed ever so logical. But after steps 1-3, the Google Maps image was unchanged and there was no mention of the movie theatre at the same size. Then a brainwave struck: What would happen if I planned a trip to the nearby hospital? Amazingly, the Cinema Brandys nad Labem  popped up on the trip planner map. Coincidence or what?

Just read the fine print

While this test was fine and good, I could have saved myself the trouble and read the fine print. Since I was logged into my Google account, this can connect to other Google services.

Having the Location History turned on also means that Google is saving news of where I go and can give me personalized maps.

And, Google Maps just might be saving the information on your location and interests regardless of what you have checked off in the Terms & Conditions.

Does it really matter?

Yes, Google has the ability to connect various threads from your online life and weave them into a pretty detailed tapestry. And, as some recent court cases are showing, they might be doing this without your permission. By making certain places more visible than others, it raises the specter that they can also influence your day to day choices.

Just think of the advertising potential to this approach. After all, Google in its heart of hearts, is an advertising company. That is how they make their money.  While one would think that this is extremely helpful, others would say that this is also invasive. While I’m not likely to stop at the theatre on the way back from the hospital, it does remind me that the theatre exists and is open for business. Hmmm, could they be playing the new Grinch movie there? Better check this out for next weekend. Because Google knows.

As a PR Consultant and journalist, Frink has covered IT security issues for a number of security software firms, as well as provided reviews and insight on the beer and automotive industries (but usually not at the same time). Otherwise, he’s known for making a great bowl of popcorn and extraordinary messes in a kitchen.