google tracks

Frankly, I am a little distressed.

I heard that Google Maps was keeping track of our location data. Google was doing this the same way any Large Internet Company ever collects more data than we expected: because there was some setting that we forgot to opt out of months ago. Then times passed, and we found that we had inadvertently been notifying them and their advertisers each time we thought we were privately searching for specialty erotica. It’s like that moment when you realize you have been changing in front of a two-way mirror every day.

One thing to do with this information is to shrug and dedicate the rest of your walking life to spelling interesting words and forming fun shapes with your perambulations. As long as Google is observing, give them something to observe! Or just be certain to walk in a distinct pattern, like this fine woman.

Most people contemplate this news with mingled terror and disgust. They do not want Google to know where they have been. They are distressed that, as usual, through negligence, they have been sharing more than they meant to. Doesn’t Google understand at this point in the relationship that just because they left their phones on the counter does not amount to an invitation for Google to go through all their contacts? They would just like to have one area of their lives that Google does not know about.

Why did you leave the tracker on if they didn’t want Google to know where you were, asks Google of the masses.

The masses reply that they did not mean to leave the location tracker on. They are sorry. The masses thought that it was clear to Google that snooping was a violation of trust, but clearly Google was operating under a different definition of trust than they realized.

But my problem is different.

This is the one time I was actually responsible enough to deactivate the setting. It turns out that nobody was recording my movements at all!

And I would like to know where I have been.

I have become, I think, a little too dependent on the dubious benevolence of The Ones Who Watch. I was an only child, so Big Brother became the big brother I never had, always there to watch and record video of my most embarrassing moments, then store it where I could not take it down. I might not be a celebrity, but I could feel reassured that at least there were cameras and cookies watching my every move. That was something, at least. Baby steps.

At first I resented it, this constantly updated, external record of all my behaviors, conversations, thoughts (if tweets can be classified as thoughts) and dreams. But then I came to depend on it. I stopped hating Big Data. I loved Big Data. It told me how well I had been sleeping (last night, sleep quality was at 78%!), how far I walked, exactly when I’d told my friends about various life milestones (all there in the Gchat record). And Big Data stored this with no effort on my part whatsoever! Sometimes I didn’t even know I’d opted in.

But once I realized it, Big Data became my crutch. In general, I have stopped remembering things, like where I was, when, with whom? Why? Google should have had me covered. What was I supposed to do, keep track of my movements myself?

No, the only thing worse than being constantly observed is not being observed at all. I’d better go opt in right now.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.