Google Is Watching You: Visualize Your Location History With This Tool

If you aren’t paying for it, you are the product.

As the internet continues to grow and evolve, our personal privacy continues to be a huge topic of debate. 

Just twenty or thirty years ago, those working in advertising seemed to acknowledge that your privacy as a consumer is paramount. However, as the marketplace became more competitive, companies began to break the golden rule of advertising until it was nothing but an archive of the past.

In recent years, our phones have been bombarded with telemarketers; our mailboxes have been filled with junk mail; and our spam folders have taken up a majority of the space on our email servers.

But there’s one type of data that goes beyond your personal phone number and your email address. It even goes further than the data that Mark Zuckerberg thinks you’re dumb for giving up.

What data could be worse than that, you might ask? 

Google Knows Where You Sleep.

It’s true. Over the past few years, Google has implemented gradual changes to their privacy policy that enables the internet giant to dig deeper into over one billion users’ location history.

Ever think about all of the places you go in a week, month or even an entire year? Google does, and it uses this information to make more money.

Many critics (including most of America’s state attorney generals) think that Google is stepping on your rights to privacy by collecting and using your location data. Regardless, whenever you use a service offered by Google, the company tracks and logs your location.

If this is starting to sound like an Orwellian novel, you should know that there’s a way to opt-out. We’ll get to that at the end of this article; but first, let’s do a little experiment to create a deeply unsettling—yet strangely beautiful—heatmap of your Google location history.

Step 1: Export Your Location History with Google Takeout

To get all of the location history that Google associates with your account, we’ll begin by going to Google Takeout

This is where you’ll go for all of the data that Google has on you.

Want to grab every document you have on Google Drive? Want to download every email in your inbox, or check out your search history? 

You can get more than fifty types of data from Google takeout, including your location history.

  1. At the top of the list, you’ll see an option called “Deselect All.” Click that button. If you export all of your Google data, you’ll probably end up with gigabytes.
  1. Scroll down until you see an item called “Location History” and check the box next to it.
  1. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on “next step.”
  1. Now, you’ll scroll down a bit and see some options. The default options will be perfect for this exercise, so just click on “Create Export.”
  1. After waiting a few seconds, your file will be ready to download. Simply click on the “Download” button.

Step 2: Convert Your File

Google has given you a .zip file with your location data. It’s most likely in the downloads folder on your computer.

Find that file and unzip it. Go into the “Location History” folder, which is where we will find our raw location data.

This is a .json file, which doesn’t work too well with the tool we’ll be using. So before we can import our data, we need to convert it into a spreadsheet.

This tool allows you to easily upload your JSON file, convert it to a .csv spreadsheet, and download it completely free.

With this tool, you can convert your file in just 4 easy steps:

  1. Click the green button
  2. Find your .json file
  3. Click on “open”
  4. Click the green “Download CSV” button

Step 3: Use Maptive to Create a Location Heatmap

If you take a look at your spreadsheet, you might notice that it looks super boring. However, by uploading the raw data to Maptive, a location heatmap software that you can use with a 7-day free trial (no credit card required), we can bring this data to a level that’s easy to understand.

Begin by creating a free account at Maptive. Once you log in, click on “Create My First Map.”

Give your map a name and click “next.” Then, we’ll click on “Select File” to upload our .csv spreadsheet.

At this point, we’ll get to our map. Hopefully, you should see some markers on places you’ve been.

To convert this data into a heatmap, click on “Map Tools” in the top-right corner, click on the flame to use the Heatmap Tool, and then click on that green button to add a heat map.

The end result should look something like this:

This is your location data, which Google is storing in its database. 

Is this cool, or is it creepy? We’ll let you decide, but we think it’s a little bit of both.

How to Turn Off Location History

Now, let’s get into the most important part of this article. What if you don’t want Google to track and store all this information?

Google actually provides instructions to turn off your location history. It’s pretty simple to follow along, and it just might help you sleep better at night.

As soon as I learned about this trick, I pulled the plug on my location history. While it’s true that we’re probably giving away a lot more data than that, it was nice to take a few minutes to exercise control over my privacy settings, rather than to passively allow my location to be tracked.

We encourage you to do the same. Don’t let Google track where you sleep!