[OT] Where have I been?

We’re going to California next month. The last time we were there, several years ago, we ate at a Chinese restaurant we really liked. We can’t remember the name of the place but no worries: my phone, by default, keeps track of everyplace I’ve been since May of 2013 (except for a few days when I lost the phone in a taxi in Montreal, so instead it holds a log of every stop the driver made).

Is this a good thing? A bad thing? Or just an it’s-the-21st-century-and-you-might-as-well-not-worry-about-it-because-it-can-be-useful-and-privacy-doesn’t-exist-anymore-anyway thing?


  1. Personally, I vote for “bad thing.” But I recognize that this just makes me a grumpy old man who might as well be shouting at kids to get off my lawn.

  2. I’m going to argue against choice C (the thesis that it doesn’t matter because privacy doesn’t exist anymore anyway). Granted, it is true that modern technology services are so useful, and maintaining privacy is so difficult and inconvenient, that sometimes it just isn’t worth opting out. But this seems like a pretty simple option to turn off, if you want to do so. (Or so I assume; I don’t think I have this historical tracking information on my iPhone, although perhaps someone will soon set me straight.) So it becomes a trade-off of whether the value of maintaining this information outweighs the risk that someone else will become privy to it.

    My own movements are not particularly sensitive, and while I don’t want them out there for the world to see, anyone who could get their hands on this information probably either already knows a lot about me or can easily get that information. But your situation may be different.

  3. I can turn it off, but so far I’ve found it more useful than scary.

    But there’s also this: Google’s been keeping track of my phone’s every movement since 2013 — but I didn’t know about it until 2015. If I disable this, who knows what other program might be saving the same information without my knowledge?

  4. Aaaand another good reason to stick with my dumPhone. Funny thing is, I don’t go anywhere except the vet, the dogs’ groomer, my groomer . . . I mean, who cares? Or is the concern that this is symptomatic of a larger issue? Like phone calls from a restaurant in another country, perhaps.

  5. I have phone tracking on, and every month google sends me report on where I went the previous month that almost always includes places on the Kitsap Peninsula, miles away from the beaches in or north of Seattle where I actually was – GPS may theoretically be available, but “location services” still believes the nearest line-of-sight cell tower. Google frequently asks me to review or answer questions about places I have been, or merely near where I’ve been. For over a week after I first told Google I hadn’t been to it’s Seattle offices, that I had been at a medical clinic across the street, Google continued to ask me what I thought of its Seattle offices. I stopped drinking coffee in 1976 when I stopped smoking, and have met people in in Coffee places maybe twice since then (and both before phones with GPS) but Google regularly asks me what I thought of some coffee outlet or another, even though Google theoretically knows more about me than God and mosquitoes put together. I do understand about the beaches, there’s nothing to BUY there, so Google can’t see the point of my going there. But mostly I wonder when Google is going to get accurate, not that what they know about me is scary.

  6. “Google’s been keeping track of my phone’s every movement”

    This changes the question. As long as *your phone” knew your location, I didn’t see a privacy problem. My GPS knows everywhere I’ve been. But my GPS stays with *me*. Regardless of whether I have anything to hide, I wouldn’t publish that data or let Google know it.

  7. If you are going to go anywhere and do anything you shouldn’t, merely hide your phone inside your spouse’s car and retrieve it later. Then you will be able to prove that whatever you are suspected of having done, you were never there.

    Do the same thing if you have reason to believe your spouse is going to go somewhere that shouldn’t be gone to and do something that shouldn’t be done.

  8. I’ve noticed that in mystery novels written/taking place in the past few years, throwing/leaving a cell phone in a taxi is done to throw anyone following the perpetrator (usually) off the trail, or as a delaying tactic.

  9. Arthur, how do we know who might be given access to this information? I have to assume if the information is in my phone, its’ potentially accessible to Google. And for all I know they might have already informed my health insurance provider that I went to McDonald’s last night.

  10. CIDU Bill, if your health insurance cares about where you eat, you need to change health insurance providers.

  11. I get so sick of hearing this argument that privacy doesn’t exist anymore as an excuse for ever more invasive spyware. Just because they occasionally catch some pervert planting a hidden camera in a ladies’ room is not a reason for all women to walk down the street naked.

  12. Mark, we live in a world where Jiffy Lube (or one of its clones) was caught selling owners’ maintenance information to auto manufacturers, to give them possible grounds for voiding warrantees.

  13. bobpeters61, I don’t know that it’s an EXCUSE, as much a reason we’re becoming desensitized to it.

    And each generation is caring about it less. My kids certainly understand how bad it is, but they’ve never lived in a world where Big Brother WASN’T a presence.

  14. We try as hard as possible not leave a trail. A couple of weeks ago when we had to drive to PA to pickup our RV from major work that was needed, Robert insisted that for the ride home (separately) I had to use Googlemaps and the (terrible, horrible) GPS that is built into the RV (yes, I drove the RV home, he drove the van). I knew I did not need it, but said I would put it on (to make him happy) as I was the lead of the two vehicles (he had GPS and cell phone GPS program running). We start out driving – I tell him that googlemaps is not doing anything – he asks if I turned on the tracking – which is off on both on phones normally and I forgot was even there. I had no idea how to turn it on, we had to pull over in a shopping center for him to do it for me – and I made sure that he shut off it off later.

    On the other hand – our computers at home apparently have no idea where are we are and don’t even think that we are both in the same place. Mine comes up thinking I am in the next county and his thinks he is in New Jersey! Fine with us.

    Most discussion groups I am on Robert is only mentioned as “husband” as I only selectively let those I trust know his name so we are not as obvious – I also do not post info about where our reenactments will be on other groups either as there are some crazy people on same that I would rather not show up anywhere I am. (And yes, I know anyone can come on here and read the posts.)

  15. When I got a new laptop recently and started using it to sign into various services, I was getting alerts on my phone, from Google for instance I think, to the effect that “blah-blah” new device had tried to sign in from location “Leominster” or some such place. The timing matched my sign in but the location was a hundred miles or more off, which slightly rang alarm bells rather than gave reassurance the security alert system was working OK.

    One the creepy side, in the UK a journalist noticed recently that she was suddenly getting baby-related ads on her Facebook feed even though she had no kids and wasn’t planning on having any. At first she put it down to being 30 and having liked various baby-producing friends’ posts of their offspring and the algorithms therefore deciding she must be in a broody state. Then she realised she had neglected to log details of the previous month in her period-tracking app and put two and two together and realised the app had told a bunch of advertisers, hey-up, she’s missed a period, new customer in the offing. When she belatedly updated her app the ads stopped.

    Going back to the new laptop (well, second hand) – I searched for a few days on eBay and other sites, looking for a good recent machine at a good price, and then bought one. Even though eBay must know I bought one through them, it still insisted on sending me emails about other laptops of the same type for days after… “are you still interested?”

    What could be annoying, in the run-up to Christmas especially, is the surprise-killing potential of this sort of brute unsubtle connection-making. It doesn’t bother me too much as at home not many people peer over my shoulder and anyway at our various advanced ages in our family we’re not too hung up on secrets and surprises, usually sorting out in advance what to give each other rather than gift yet more unwanted clutter. But I can imagine someone looking online for various gift ideas and buying stuff and then perhaps innocently showing spouse/kids/parents/friends some cat video or whathaveyou on the computer and everyone seeing loads of ads for that same product popping up, even if you have already bought it.

  16. I’ve always assumed CIDU Bill is in on the privacy sales bandwagon. But I’m sending my address for the Channukah card anyway :^).

  17. Google may know you WENT to McDonald’s, but it doesn’t know WHY you went there. Me? I always use their bathrooms when traveling, but don’t usually buy anything there . . . There’s your story and you’re stickin’ to it!

  18. Yes,. Google has access to it. It’s on the Internet: https://www.google.com/maps/timeline. You can only access it with your password, though.

    I’d like to turn it off, but if I need it for directions, it takes way too long, and it’s really useful when I can’t find my phone, since I can have google ring it. And once, I left my phone in the library, and I knew it had been taken because google showed me where it was. So I sacrifice the privacy for the usefulness, and trust in the Goodness of Google’s Heart, which I know doesn’t exist.

  19. Last week during a vet visit, Dr. L and I discussed (IRL, mind you) the fact that the Halloween thru Easter part of the year is prime candy-eating time for both of us.

    The next day, I received an advertisement from Candy Warehouse, reminding me that Thanksgiving candy (who knew?) would be sold out soon and I’d better hurry up and order some.

    So, next week, when one of my furkids goes in for a dental, I’m checking the exam room for a microphone!

  20. Ron, who used to post here, said:
    Nobody on the thread is sufficiently paranoid. Suppose the phone places you at the time and in the vicinity of a murder scene. If a police fishing expedition manages to get ahold of the record and has no suspects, you’ve suddenly been promoted from “random member of the public” to “prime suspect”.

    Essentially the same problem as being genetically related to murderer DNA and a the police have found a relative of yours in some DNA database.

    And that reminded me of this:

    Back in 2002, science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer wrote an essay about the trade-off between privacy and security. I’ve never forgotten the first sentence: “Whenever I visit a tourist attraction that has a guest register, I always sign it. After all, you never know when you’ll need an alibi.”

    Since I read that, whenever I see a tourist attraction with a guest register, I do the same thing. I sign “Robert J. Sawyer, Toronto, ON” — because you never know when he’ll need an alibi. – Bruce Schneier

    Finally, it’s been noted that the most vocal people saying that privacy is dead and we should all just accept that, are people who make money off of what used to be our private lives. To almost certainly misquoted someone, “If a man’s income depends on not seeing something, he will find it *very* hard to see.”

  21. I have no phone other than a land line; I am not on any sort of social media (unless things like CIDU count); I have no GPS (I don’t travel much, but when I do I use paper maps); I use credit cards only as a grudging last resort (maybe two or three times a year); I certainly don’t have Alexa or Alexi or any of its sidekicks in my house; I collect paper books and dvds and never read eBooks or deal with the likes of Netflix, and etc. And (while I’m in favor of privacy and all that), none of the above is even because I’m heavily concerned with privacy — I just like doing things the way I grew up doing them. (And no, I don’t mind kids on my lawn; better there than bicycling at high speed down the middle of the sidewalk.)

    Which probably means that somewhere on a big map in Seattle there’s a flashing red dot in south Minneapolis where BigGoogle is seriously considering a tactical nuke, lest my infection spread.

  22. I have been taking college courses and viewing web sites and looking up things I wouldn’t otherwise be interested in, so strange ads have been turning up for a while.

    Now I also note that I view certain other web sites that I am interested in, and I am happy to report that related ads do NOT turn up. If they did, it wouldn’t be a problem anyway because I live alone and nobody sees what’s on my screen.

  23. Shrug, “Alexi” made me think of a device that acknowledges your request in a Boris-and-Natasha accent, and tells you whether Fearless Leader allows it to respond.

  24. I’m a Local Guide for Google – it’s minor fun, as far as I’m concerned. As part of that, my maps app keeps asking me to update/correct my timeline for previous days (did you stop here? Missing visit in (area). Etc.). Recently, it got a lot dumber – it has twice in the past week asked me to “update your visit in (my neighborhood)”…I went home, and it didn’t know it! Sheesh.
    I also do Google Rewards – that’s surveys for small money on Google Play Store (which adds up – my total, over 4-5 years, is over $300). I get the ones for stores that I passed by on the other side of the street quite a lot. I discovered that if I say I went there but didn’t buy anything, a) I get a slightly higher payout and b) they stop asking me about it.
    And yeah, ads for stuff you just bought drives me nuts. I spend a couple months thoroughly researching a purchase (being bombarded by ads for it – especially the alternatives I’ve already dismissed…), finally buy whatever it is – and get just as many ads from general places (Google), plus ads from wherever I bought the thing. Argh! If I just bought curtains/a table/a computer/whatever, I _don’t_ need more!

  25. Okay, the mention of Glynis Johns just now reminded me why this could come in handy:

    On December 26, 1973, I saw her musical in Manhattan with my cousin.

    On December 26, 1973, I was on a first date with a girl from my high school.

    I absolutely remember both being true, and I remember many specifics from both (including of course the fact that it was the day after Christmas). Yet…

    So if I’d somehow had my cell phone back then, I could check to see which reality was correct. As things stand, though…

  26. I don’t see these two events being mutually exclusive. ‘First date’ doesn’t mean your first cousin couldn’t’ve been with you, for some reason (and no, I don’t mean as the person you were dating).

  27. Bill -we have something similar with two versions of part of our first trip together.

    I remember and Robert does also – that we did not make a rest stop until we were in PA and then only because I asked. It stands out in my mind as I was a little embarrassed to mention that I needed to stop due to the reason why (we had been dating only about 6 months at the time) and I had actually needed to stop earlier but did not ask figuring that like when my parents traveled there would be a top halfway through the trip. He remembers this story and my asking him to stop.

    But we also both remember stopping on that trip at the first rest area on the NJ Turnpike.

    We call things like this that arise – “a rift in the time line” and presume that both situations in alternative universes might be true. So, Bill, maybe the same applies to your memories also.

    On other hand – I tend to record almost everything I have done in my Lotus Organizer/synced to my Palm Centro phone. I had been doing so with work and started doing it in general as part of trying to get better organized a problem that has gotten worse in the last year with all the craziness we have had going on. (Also good if a credit card slip gets lost – dinner at Ikea, no slip – let me see if we ate there that night.) But now it is has become more important as Robert is confusing past events even worse than I am and I can check back see if I what I wrote matches his version or mine – although one never knows if the difference is due to that rift in the timeline.

  28. Meryl, this was “explained” in a Doctor Who episode a few years back:

    Doctor- Amy, everyone’s memory is a mess. Life is a mess. Everyone’s got memories of a holiday they’ve couldn’t have been on, a party they never went to, or met someone for the first time and felt like they’ve known them all their lives. Time is being rewritten all around us every day. People think their memories are bad, but their memories are fine. The past is really like that.

    Amy- That’s ridiculous.

    Doctor- Yeah, now you’re starting to get it!

  29. Bill – our thoughts on things like this is that there has been a rift in the time line and we are remembering the old and new versions.

Add a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.