Google does track your mobile location history if you use Google Maps to navigate to places.
If you use Google Maps to navigate from place to place, or if you have agreed to be a local guide for Google Maps, there is a chance that you have seen Google Mobile Location history information. There is a Google Account Help page about how to Manage or delete your Location History. The mobile location history page starts off by telling us:
Your Location History helps you get better results and recommendations on Google products. For example, you can see recommendations based on places you’ve visited with signed-in devices or traffic predictions for your daily commute.
You may see this history as your timeline, and there is a Google Help page to View or edit your timeline. This page starts out by telling us:
Your timeline in Google Maps helps you find the places you’ve been and the routes you’ve traveled. Your timeline is private, so only you can see it.
Mobile Location history has been around for a while, and I’ve seen it mentioned in a few Google patents. It may be referred to as a “Mobile location history” because it appears to contain information collected by your mobile device. Here are three posts I’ve written about patents that mention location history and describe processes that depend upon Mobile Location history:
- Google to Use Distance from Mobile Location History for Ranking in Local Search
- Google Giving Less Weight to Reviews of Places You Stop Visiting?
- Google Tracking How Busy Places are by Looking at Location Histories
An interesting article that hints at some possible aspects of mobile location history just came out on January 24th, in the post, If you’re using an Android phone, Google may be tracking every move you make.
The timing of the article about location history is interesting given that Google was granted a patent on user location histories the day before that article was published. It focuses upon telling us how location history works:
The present disclosure relates generally to systems and methods for generating a user location history. In particular, the present disclosure is directed to systems and methods for analyzing raw location reports received from one or more devices associated with a user to identify one or more real-world location entities visited by the user.
Techniques that could be used to attempt to determine a location associated with a device can include GPS, IP Addresses, Cell-phone triangulation, Proximity to Wifi Access points, and maybe even power line mapping using device magnetometers.
The patent has an interesting way of looking at location history, which sounds reasonable. I don’t know the latitudes and longitudes of places I visit:
Thus, human perceptions of location history are generally based on time spent at particular locations associated with human experiences and a sense of place, rather than a stream of latitudes and longitudes collected periodically. Therefore, one challenge in creating and maintaining a user location history that is accessible for enhancing one or more services (e.g. search, social, or an API) is to correctly identify particular location entities visited by a user based on raw location reports.
The location history process looks like it involves collecting data from mobile devices in a way that allows it to gather information about places visited, with scores for each of those locations. I have had Google Maps ask me to verify some of the places that I have visited, as if the score it had for those places may not have been sufficient (not high enough of a level of confidence) for it to believe that I had actually been at those places.
The mobile location history patent is:
Systems and methods for generating a user location history
Inventors: Daniel Mark Wyatt, Renaud Bourassa-Denis, Alexander Fabrikant, Tanmay Sanjay Khirwadkar, Prathab Murugesan, Galen Pickard, Jesse Rosenstock, Rob Schonberger, and Anna Teytelman
Assignee: Google LLC
US Patent: 9,877,162
Granted: January 23, 2018
Filed: October 11, 2016
Systems and methods for generating a user location history are provided. One example method includes obtaining a plurality of location reports from one or more devices associated with the user. The method includes clustering the plurality of location reports to form a plurality of segments. The method includes identifying a plurality of location entities for each of the plurality of segments. The method includes determining, for each of the plurality of segments, one or more feature values associated with each of the location entities identified for such segment. The method includes determining, for each of the plurality of segments, a score for each of the plurality of location entities based at least in part on a scoring formula. The method includes selecting one of plurality of locations entities for each of the plurality of segments.
Why generate a mobile location history?
A couple of reasons stand out in the patent’s extended description.
1) The generated user location history can be stored and then later accessed to provide personalized location-influenced search results.
2) As another example, a system implementing the present disclosure can provide the location history to the user via an interactive user interface that allows the user to view, edit, and otherwise interact with a graphical representation of her mobile location history.
I like the interactive user Interface that shows times and distances traveled.
This statement from the patent was interesting, too:
According to another aspect of the present disclosure, a plurality of location entities can be identified for each of the plurality of segments. As an example, map data can be analyzed to identify all location entities that are within a threshold distance from a segment location associated with the segment. Thus, for example, all businesses or other points of interest within 1000 feet of the mean location of all location reports included in a segment can be identified.
Google may track information about locations that appear in that history, such as popularity features, which may include, “a number of social media mentions associated with the location entity being valued; a number of check-ins associated with the location entity being valued; a number of requests for directions to the location entity being valued; and/or and a global popularity rank associated with the location entity being valued.”
Personalization features may also be collected which described previous interactions between the user and the location entity, such as:
1) a number of instances in which the user performed a map click with respect to the location entity being valued;
2) a number of instances in which the user requested directions to the location entity being valued;
3) a number of instances in which the user has checked-in to the location entity being valued;
4) a number of instances in which the user has transacted with the location entity as evidenced by data obtained from a mobile payment system or virtual wallet;
5) a number of instances in which the user has performed a web search query with respect to the location entity being valued.
Other benefits of mobile location history
This next potential feature was one that I tested to see if it was working, querying location history. It didn’t seem to be active at this point:
For example, a user may enter a search query that references the user’s historical location (e.g. “Thai restaurant I ate at last Thursday”). When it is recognized that the search query references the user’s location history, then the user’s location history can be analyzed in light of the search query. Thus, for example, the user location history can be analyzed to identify any Thai restaurants visited on a certain date and then provide such restaurants as results in response to the search query.
The patent refers to a graphical representation of mobile location history, which is available:
As an example, in some implementations, a user reviewing a graphical representation of her location history can indicate that one of the location entities included in her location history is erroneous (e.g. that she did not visit such location). In response, the user can be presented with one or more of the location entities that were identified for the segment for which the incorrect location entity was selected and can be given an opportunity to select a replacement location.
In addition to the timeline interface, you can also see a map of places you may have visited:
You can see in the screenshot of my timeline, I took a photo of a Kumquat tree I bought yesterday. It gives me a chance to see the photos I took so that I can edit them if I would like. The patent tells us this about the user interface:
In other implementations, opportunities to perform other edits, such as deleting, annotating, uploading photographs, providing reviews, etc., can be provided in the interactive user interface. In such fashion, the user can be provided with an interactive tool to explore, control, share, and contribute to her location history.
The patent tells us that it tracks activities that you may have engaged in at specific locations:
In further embodiments of the present disclosure, a location entity can be associated with a user action within the context of location history. For example, the user action can be making a purchase (e.g. with a digital wallet) or taking a photograph. In particular, in some embodiments, the user action or an item of the content generated by the user action (e.g. the photograph or receipt) can be analyzed to assist in identifying the location entity associated with such user action. For example, the analysis of the user action or item of content can contribute to the score determined for each location entity identified for a segment.
I have had the Google Maps application ask me if I would like to contribute photos that I have taken at specific locations, such as at the sunset at Solana Beach. I haven’t used a digital wallet, so I don’t know if that is potentially part of my location history.
The patent describes the timeline feature and the Map feature that I included screenshots from above.
The patent interestingly tells us that location entities may be referred to by the common names of the places they are called, and refers to those as “Semantic Identifiers:
Each location entity can be designated by a semantic identifier (e.g. the common “name” of restaurant, store, monument, etc.), as distinguished from a coordinate-based or location-based identifier. However, in addition to a name, the data associated with a particular location entity can further include the location of the location entity, such as longitude, latitude, and altitude coordinates associated with the location entity.
It’s looking like mobile location history could get smarter:
As an example, an interaction evidenced by search data can include a search query inputted by a user that references a particular location entity. As another example, an interaction evidenced by map data 218 can include a request for directions to a particular location entity or a selection of an icon representing the particular location entity within a mapping application. As yet another example, an interaction evidenced by email data 220 can include flight or hotel reservations to a particular city or lodging or reservations for dinner at a particular restaurant. As another example, an interaction evidenced by social media data 222 can include a check-in, a like, a comment, a follow, a review, or other social media action performed by the user with respect to a particular location entity.
Tracking these interactions is being done under the name “user/location entity interaction extraction,” and it may calculate statistics about such interactions:
Thus, user/location entity interaction extraction module 212 can analyze available data to extract interactions between a user and a location entity. Further, interaction extraction module 212 can maintain statistics regarding aggregate interactions for a location entity with respect to all users for which data is available.
It appears that to get the benefit of being able to access information such as this, you would need to give Google the ability to collect such data.
The patent provides more details about mobile location history, and popularity and other features, and even a little more about personalization. Many aspects of location history have been implemented, while there are some that look like they might have yet to be developed. As can be seen from the three posts I have written about that describes patents that use information from location history, it is possible that location history may be used in other processes used by Google.
What might Google do with Location history? I wrote about some other patents that use location history. These are about patents from Google that use location history:
- Google’s Mobile Location History
- Google Tracking How Busy Places are by Looking at Location History
- Google Lifestreaming?
- Google Patents Identifying User Location Spam
- Google Patent Granted on Mobile Location Detection
- Location Extensions Augmented Advertisements
How do you feel about mobile location history from Google?