Google’s Mobile Location History

Google Location History

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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 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:

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

Abstract

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.

Location History Timeline
Location History Timeline

In addition to the timeline interface, you can also see a map of places you may have visited:

Timeline with Map Interface
Timeline with Map Interface

You can see in my 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 a 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 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.

How do you feel about mobile location history from Google?

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34 thoughts on “Google’s Mobile Location History”

  1. I’m a Google Local Expert. It often catches me offguard when Google knows where I am all the time. If I meet a friend for lunch, Google asks me questions about the restaurant and wants photos. One friend finds this creepy. I don’t find it creepy or I wouldn’t do it…do I want to be tracked everywhere I go. What could be the downside of this?

  2. Hi Cathie,

    I like being a Google Local Guide, and answering questions about businesses, and contributing photos and reviews about businesses in my area (to help the local economy, and others who might need services and goods near where I live. I use Google Maps to get around, and usually it helps me circumvent heavy traffic, and find alternative routes. When Google notices that I took a photo at a place, and asks if i want to share it on Google Maps, I am often pleased to do so. I enjoy helping local businesses rank in Google Maps results, and earn knowledge panels. I think it helps the local community.

  3. What i would be interested in is seeing a heat map like Strava gave the other day (and got in vague trouble cause it revealed soldiers’ patrol routes….lol).

    It would be an invaluable resource for businesses to try and work out foot traffic when considering a location and things like that. Would be great for PPC mobile queries and working out if it is worth boosting mobile ads in certain areas/times as well.

    Obviously would need to be completely anonymous, but I don’t see a reason why Google couldn’t give out that information…unless they already are and i haven’t found it.

  4. Hi Dave,

    I don’t see much discussion about it, but I believe that Apple is using iphone location tracking to gather information about where people go shopping and eat at. It would be interesting to see that information. Do you remember when Google purchased Skybox, the Satellite company, which was known for doing things such as photographing parking lots of businesses to see how many customers they had. I haven’t seen heatmaps like you describe, but in knowledge panels, they do have busyness indicators which show how busy businesses are at different times of the day.

  5. Never knew about Google mobile location history, this appears to be really cutting edge and wonder about the effect it will have on local search listings?

  6. Hi Cathy,

    Location history has been around for a while. I’ve listed three posts I’ve written about patents from Google previously that mention it, including one that says that Google is no longer using distance from you as a ranking factor for Google Maps results, but instead is using distance from where you have been in your location history as a ranking factor. So, if you have a daily commute, it looks like they believe that will be a reasonable starting point for you to use when you are trying to find a place to visit. One of those patents is from 2016, but I think that location history may have been around even longer, especially for people who use Google Maps to navigate around a lot (I did after moving to California in 2015.)

  7. Mobile Location History feels like a double edged sword!

    This is some really cool technology and makes life easier if for instance you’re a local guide on Google like me. Sometimes I wouldn’t even think of leaving a review but when I check my phone I get the option to leave a review for the establishment which I have just visited.

    It’s great in that it is able to offer you personalised results and services but bad for personal privacy for that fact you are constantly being tracked by Google :/

  8. I like a being a local guide for Google and giving information about places that I’ve been. Also, the photo sharing option also pleases me.

  9. Its one of the best feature available. I like being the local guide to google and leave a review and pictures where ever i go. I am not that much concerned about privacy though. Moreover its good ways to help other in understanding the local places as well.

  10. Thank you very much good job and thanks for sharing such a good organised. It was a perfect topic such kind of information.

  11. Thanks again for the wonderful conference you organised. It was a perfect topics with nice information.

  12. Wonderful information, thanks a lot for sharing kind of information. This is just the kind of information that I had been looking for, Thanks a ton once again.This is very nice one and gives in depth information.

  13. Hi Expro Academy,

    I enjoy being a local guide, too. Adding pioctures to a place, to provide views of it that people haven’t seen, gives them a chance to see before they visit. I like to look at photos of places I might go first, too. So being able to share those is a chance to pay back the favor.

  14. Hi SEO Nottingham,

    I have lived in places where there were very few reviews for businesses, and I like having that information right at my fingertips, which leads me to leave reviews for others to read.

    Google does use location history data to tell people how busy places get at the time they might visit; and it is possible that Google may tell people how long waits in lines in stores, or in lines at amusement parks might be. I think it’s great getting information like that, and they aren’t divulging my location to other people, and how long I’ve been at particular places. I’m fine if they don’t track and share personally identifible information about me.

  15. i also uses google maps when i travel and some of the time it asks me as well about the places.
    i think it is a good technology and helping many people and saving a lot of time and money as well.

  16. Google Maps are really helpful these day, they are providing an estimate time according to the running traffic. Well now I manage my ride by getting an estimate time to reach somewhere.

  17. It seems like people fall into 2 camps. Those that find it totally creepy and those that are appreciative of the personal, customized experience it provides them when using Google products. If you don’t like it, don’t use it I say.

  18. I love how location based search is getting what I want pretty well today, but, and the big but that really makes me nervous, is the leakage of privacy and private data, and users simply have no conception of it or a clear pathway to managing their private data (and I mean clear to them!)

    I’m not currently subscribing to the view that users have a choice: they do in fact, but do they in practice? As with so much of our online usage of features and apps, location tracking functionality is sooooo seductive, and user control is deliberately channeled to using rather than not using.

  19. Hi Karl,

    I remember the last time I tried to open a paper map on the car seat next to me, and figure out where I was and how to manage to get back to the known world. It’s been a long time. When I moved to the West Coast three years ago, I found myself in a place where I had very little familiarity with the roads and traffic patterns and businesses. I didn’t go anywhere without asking Google Maps how to get there first, and it would take me mile-by-mile, and turn-by-turn the whole way. I learned that it would often navigate me around traffic congestion, even if I knew the route, and would warn me about going to places that were soon closing. I haven’t sacrificed my freedom or privacy in exchange for convenience because it doesn’t share that data about me in ways that may harm me.I have seen the busyness indicators for businesses in knowledge graphs on the Web, and I have a good sense of how they are getting that information. When Google estimates how long a trip will take, or informs me of a traffic delay ahead of me, I know how they are getting that information. Do you envision tracking information or location history being used in harmful ways in the future? I’m not sure that I see that happening.

  20. Thanks Bill, for this helpful article.

    However, don’t you think it is a little scary that companies like google, facebook know more about you than you about yourself?

  21. Google Maps are really helpful these day, they are providing an estimate time according to the running traffic. Well now I manage my ride by getting an estimate time to reach somewhere.

  22. Local guides are increasingly important and when you add in Google stacks you have an absolute SEO powerhouse. The need for local and mobile first continues to be expansive. This is moving at such a rapid rate. We live in exciting times!

  23. That’s a great article. Do you think there is any way to leverage being a local guide to help your own SEO as a Google Business?

    I just took up the ‘offer’ of been a local guide the other day – very interested to see how this rolls out over the year for local businesses.

  24. i really never know about google mobile history,it’s kinda interesting information.
    thanks for sharing this.

  25. Hey Bill, its great article about the google mobile history, today, I came know about the google how it takes. Great stuff.

  26. Hi Bill Slawski,
    Really thanks for sharing this this article. Personally i really no idea about Google’s Mobile Location History. So I think this is a very helpful guide for me.

    Thanks,
    Ariana Andrason

  27. Today, location History is used to power features like traffic predictions and restaurant recommendations. Thanks for sharing , this best content I’ve read in a long time. Thanks.

  28. Hello Bill,

    I would like to appreciate the efforts you have put in writing such an informative piece of work and analysis. Keep writing such kind of articles.

    Thank you.

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