Late last year TripAdvisor introduced “Travel Timelines“. They sounded pretty cool from the press release so I decided to try it out. Admittedly, my attention span is quite short and so I turned the feature on but then I completely forgot about it. That is, I forgot about it until I realized a few weeks later that my battery usage was decreasing significantly quicker than usual. When I checked my settings to see what was causing this sharp decline, I was surprised to see TripAdvisor at the top of the list.
Over the three week period that I used my Travel Timeline, TripAdvisor collected tons of data about me. How did they collect this data?
Well, here is a picture from this past Monday when I had timeline turned on.
Timeline knows that I went to work downtown, it knows I took a coffee break at Starbucks, after going to Taiwan Cafe for a late lunch. That seems pretty detailed to me.
Normally when I think of social media sites collecting data I picture Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Other sites/apps like TripAdvisor and Yelp rarely pop into my mind. I think it’s because I see them as a service rather than a social platform. Yet, this entire timeline feature is meant for users to be able to share personal information with friends and users more easily. The timeline makes it easier to remember what you did, where you ate, how you traveled and it puts your entire day in one place. Even if you don’t remember the name of that random restaurant, your timeline will.
What assumptions does it make? The app does try to guess when it is uncertain. It will add the location it thinks you went to on your timeline and ask ” Were you here?” You can then answer yes if that is correct or no if it is not. If you answer no, the app will then prompt you with possible locations you could have confused with it. Sometimes the app also makes some assumptions based on the time you spend doing something.
You can see on the right that when I selected no for visiting the McMullen Museum the app gave me an entire new list of suggestions. So up until this point I’ve made the app seem pretty heavy on data collection and much like a creepy tracker. However, I will also argue that the app has great use for when you are traveling. I am someone who can’t remember what I ate for dinner last night, let alone the random restaurant I stopped in while visiting another country.
For example, one time the app thought that I flew from Zurich to Geneva. In reality, I took the train, but the app didn’t have any outside information to use. Is this a pro or con? Still unsure. On the one hand, I think it would be nice to have all the travel information in one place. However, I also don’t want one app to have so much data on my personal life.
It’s nice to look back 6 months and remember the random diner that a friend and I went to for brunch one morning. As someone who travels frequently, I think this could be a helpful tool to use on vacations so I can document experiences. It is an easy way to track what I did and concisely provide someone with an itinerary. I like the functionality and how it is easy to post a review or rate any of the places you’ve visited within your timeline.
What about when you aren’t traveling? This was especially interesting. It was fun to look at for a few minutes and remember the mundane details of my day, but then I realized I didn’t care. So yes, it is nice to have the option to turn on the timeline – but I also want the option to easily turn it off.
Welcome to the random details of my life. I’m not interested and you probably aren’t either. The detail the app has is down to the street number sometimes. It maps the route I use to drive to places and realizes when I go to places frequently that it’s more likely that I went to eat at that location. I think all of these features are cool, but if they get any more specific I might be uncomfortable.
I will say that I think the majority of social media sites and maps are capable of this level of tracking. If any apps joined together they could also collectively have so much data about me and you. While this one timeline feature isn’t the end of the world, I do see how spreading this type of platform and technology would be scary for other sites to implement. Companies like Facebook already own multiple other sites, including some that I use frequently, such as WhatsApp. Many people already feel threatened by social media, but most of the time they don’t even consider these other social platforms. If they added in this detailed location tracking, they would essentially know every aspect of my life.