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Google Maps Timeline & Digital Security

I’ve been (slowly) working my way through the 23 Things List, a project on digital literacy from the University of Edinburgh. Thing number 4 was Digital Security. While we include Web Security in a lot of our digital literacy prorams, I’m not a huge WebSec person. It’s not something that I think about or worry about to the extent that ….. does.

Probably because WebSec hasn’t been a huge concern for me, I was surprised by what I found on Google Maps Timeline.

My data on Google Maps Timeline

If you go to, you will likely find your own movement history for the past several years. As you can see in the picture above, Google knows my home and work addresses (I’ve removed them from the screenshot), the cities that I’ve been to, and even the modes of transportation I took to get there.

I can go through the data and find out how many times I’ve been to my favorite coffee shops over the past week or year. Google has data on my location dating back to 2009, which is probably when I got my first phone that tracked geolocations. The data is a bit patchy for the early years, but pretty thorough since about 2015.

My colleague Keegan Long-Wheeler has been doing some work on reconstructing his memories from the past few years. He had a brain tumor removed earlier this year, so he has been going back through the softwares that track him to retrace his steps and reflect on his activities.

If we want to be very generous to Google, we can suppose for a moment that this is how they intended such data to be used. I enjoyed spending about 15 minutes looking back through my data and remembering some of the trips from the past couple of years. Google also uses this data to send us notifications about how long it’s going to take to get to work in the morning and what the traffic is like around us. They put our maps through algorithms to understand our daily routines, and build that information into their phones, watches, and assistants.

However, I think we all realize that the reason Google collects this information is so that they can use it for marketing. Google is an ad company and a data company. They want to micro-target us with ads, and they want to sell our data to companies that will be most interested in us. Knowing literally everywhere that I’ve been over the past 10 years is valuable for their business model.

If you haven’t done it yet, go to and look at your data. Play around with it for a few minutes. Reminisce about those trips and your favorite spots around town.

Now look at the little black trashcan at the bottom of the screen, and seriously think about deleting all that location data. If you didn’t know about this service until today, and if you don’t care about those notifications you get to your phone, you won’t be missing anything and Google won’t be able to sell all of your location data any more. If you love your Google notifications, and you’ve got a Google Home listening to your every move at home, then maybe leave it on. Either way, control of your data should be up to you. You can find more about your data security in the Thing 4 walkthrough or check out this Medium post by Nick Rosener on Personal Cybersecurity.

Photograph of Angela Gunder and Kelvin Thompson in conversation at the OLC Acclerate 18 Conference

Digital Footprint

As part of the 23 Things MOOC from the University of Edinburgh, I did a little bit of searching today to see what my digital footprint looks like. 

I have an extremely common name, so most of what I found with a Google search was links for information about Jon Stewart and links for the Green Lantern. There are various important historical John Stewarts (John Stewart Mill for one), so my footprint is buried.

However, if you Google search John Stewart OU, you’ll find a lot more about me. Most of the Google results from my computer (influenced by my Google search history and all of the other data Google has on me) pointed at my blog and my other professional profiles.

I have taught workshops on how to manage your digital presence, so this pretty well fit with my expectations. In these presentations, I stress that you should create a digital presence that you control rather than letting people stumble upon your old photos from Facebook. While it’s still possible to find pictures of me doing dumb things as an undergrad, most people will click instead on my blog or LinkedIn account or other, professional profiles. 

I am interested in the multiple personas/facets that we each present out on the internet. You might have an Instagram persona – the you that lives your best life. You might even have multiple Instagram personas. There might be a different you on Facebook that your parents and grandparents can deal with. On Twitter, we might find the the media critic version of you that watches Netflix all day and shares some thoughts. There are probably some professional profiles and some less than professional relics of earlier days floating around. Perhaps one day, we’ll have a centralized collection of our stuff that we can mete out to people based on which version of ourselves we want them to see, hiding the other personas behind a wall. For now though, if you post it online, assume that your mom, your grandparents, and your future employer will all find it.

Digital Knowledge MOOC

This week I registered for an open, online class called 23 Things for Digital Knowledge offered out of the University of Edinburgh.

I’m currently planning out my own digital literacy course for next summer, so I signed up mostly to see what they’ve focused on and how they tie it all together. For my own class, my early and very partial list of stuff that I want students to work on includes:

  • media literacy – critically evaluating the sources, biases, and rhetoric of the information they’re getting
  • the digital divide – investigate the reasons why power structures are reflected in access to and control of digital knowledge systems
  • web literacy – what are the different types of sites (blogs, wikis, forums, databases, static sites, etc.) and how do you build them
  • information systems – how to structure data in a csv, how to harvest data, how to clean data, how to analyze and visualize it
  • digital privacy – what kind of data are we leaking, how do businesses collect it, what do they do with it, and how do we mitigate all of this
  • digital security
  • digital citizenship
  • technological diffusion
  • algorithms (of oppression)
  • the funding of technological innovation
  • governmental use of technology

If we somehow built all of these skills and discussed the history of technology and the construction of cultures of knowledge, there would still be whole fields of psychological, sociological, educational, rhetorical, and economic analysis that we could delve into. 

The first of 23 Things’ asynchronous blogging assignments asks what you hope to get out of the MOOC. I’m hoping just to see how they managed to narrow the scope of Digital Knowledge to 23 things. 

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