Where I’ve been for the past five years

A student explained to me earlier why she uses Dropbox instead of Google. She told me “Google knows enough about me – they don’t need to also see my files.” She proudly pointed to her monitor, where a piece of paper covered the webcam lens: “They don’t need to know everything about me.”
This student had taken a digital studies course DIG 211: Surveillance Culture, and understood all the ways in which our use of the internet (and of ‘free’ apps, in particular) serves as a powerful source of data: for whom, we don’t really know, but the student was clear about her disdain for “The Corporations.”
I’ve been meaning to dig deeper into my own location history in Google Maps (whether your location history is on or off), ever since I discovered that my daily life consists of a triangle – home, office, cafeteria, sometimes a grocery store; during my youngest son’s high school soccer season, my triangle includes various high schools in Mecklenburg County.
Fortunately, Lifehacker wrote about an online tool that allows you to create a heat map of your Google Location History (her map looked more exciting than mine). My first data point in location history doesn’t appear until October 2013, so the map above is essentially for the last five years.
What does the map above tell me? I’ve spent time in two places – US and China.

US Heatmap
US Heatmap, past five years

Zooming into the various locations in the US, I see that almost all the places I’ve been to are colleges or universities, academic conferences, or family. My takeaway is that this is similar to the message of my daily triangle – I go to places for work or family.

China Heatmap, past five years

Zooming into China, it gets a little better. I spend most of my time in Shanghai or other fieldsites in China, but at least it shows that I took a vacation (with my family) to Taiwan.

The interactive Location History Visualizer can be a big timesuck – it allows you to drill down to specific locations, so you can see more specifics about particular places – addresses where you’ve stayed overnight (since there are more of these datapoints, assuming you didn’t forget your phone somewhere), roads that you’ve traveled.

So now Google knows what I already knew – I don’t get out much. Capitalize on that.