How To Track Your Travels with Google Location History
Ever traveled to a place then forgot the name of that small shop that sells the best tasting cronuts you've ever had? Or have you ever wanted to retrace your steps in your travels, down to the smallest alleyways you passed along the way but couldn't? Here's a travel tool that enables you to do that - so well that it's cool and scary at the same time: the Google Location History.
I use the service - which you need to enable on your mobile phone and Google account - to look back at my travels and generate some cool maps that retrace my steps during my trips. Google Maps, by itself, is an incredibly useful app already; I cannot count how many times I've used it when traveling to find my hostel, the nearest subway station, that cronut place. Having location history enable, made it cooler and more useful.
Take a look at these examples:
The top photo shows my movements around Singapore during my trip there in September, It basically showed my movements in the city state - from my hotel to the office skyscraper where I was attending a training, to the malls and areas I frequently visited.
Below shows the trip to Japan and Chicago, from the top level down to detailed street movements in certain cities, like in Kyoto and Tokyo. I can say that the Map is pretty much accurate, but only to a point. Some points in the generated maps are only approximate locations, and some are off by several kilometers at best. Still it presents a great picture of where you've been at a particular point in time.
|Tracing my movement in Tokyo|
|My movement in Nagano prefecture|
The Google Maps app gets its location using the GPS signals from satellites above, and also by triangulating the phone's position using cells sites and WiFi signals broadcasted by the routers around you. It saves your mobile's location history in Google's servers and you can use the data to generate the maps like you see here.
Of course the service is opt-in. You have to enable it in your mobile, and you can turn it off any time (Settings > Location History). I haven't explored how much in the past I can generate from my location history, but I think I had enabled this by default since I got my first Android mobile phone a few years ago. It is also necessary that you have data services on your phone. I have sparse data from my trip to Mexico because I can only log in when there's WiFi (I couldn't find any prepaid SIM with data when I was there).
|Evidence that I've been to Kankakee, IL.|
It does raise some privacy issues, and I think this service could be an anathema for the tinfoil-hat crowd. It could also track you when you go to unsavory places, so you might have to turn it off if you have some unusual attractions to check out in the city you're visiting. For me at least, the privacy concerns are trumped by the usefulness of the feature, so I turn it on 99% of the time (don't ask why for the 1%). Having the location history is useful for feeding data for another Google app that I use frequently when traveling - Google Now. It is a sort of personal assistant, giving you information such as your upcoming flight, when to leave for the airport, the gate you're supposed to board, etc. Having access to location history makes Google Now more accurate in the information that it shows, so there.
If you'd like to turn on the service you only need to log in your account, here. This is also where you can generate the maps using the location data. The calendar is where you input the dates of the location history you want to map, with the maximum of 30 days at a time. If you believe in the impending New World Order and there's someone or something out there, this is also where you go to delete all your location history so they can't track you.