Here's the latest scary example of just how detailed Google location data really is

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Credit: Illustration by Ad Age

ICYMI: In the latest New York Times Magazine, John Herrman offers a particularly harrowing—and deeply personal—take on just how detailed Google's user-location data really is.

Herrman, a technology reporter for the Times, does what many before him have done: He downloads the data Google has on him using the Google Takeout tool, and then feeds it through third-party software called Location History Visualizer. (The prompt for doing so now: an August report from the Associated Press titled "Google tracks your movements, like it or not," which revealed that, as the AP's Ryan Nakashima wrote, "Google wants to know where you go so badly that it records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.")

At first in Hermann's "On Technology" column, titled "Google Knows Where You've Been, but Does It Know Who You Are?," he seems a bit underwhelmed by the data—because, at the top level, it indicates the obvious: Where he lives and works, plus various out-of-town trips he remembers taking.

"Then I zoomed in," he writes, offering an extraordinary deconstruction of Google's data related to his recurring travel to visit his hometown:

Trips to see family were rendered in cold detail. They showed a town where I spent most of the first 18 years of my life reduced to the skeletal routine of a repeat outside visitor. The purple haze over the airport resolved, on a closer look, into dots at Gates C18 and C25, where I've arrived or departed, and from or to which I walked to use a bathroom near Gate C9, just before Christmas in 2017. Another faint trail led to my mother's home, which glowed red; a few jogs around the neighborhood ringed the house in blue. I could pick out the restaurants in town that we went to together and the bar downtown where I met an old friend. ... I zoomed in on a dot just north of the house and found myself at church, for the yearly family Christmas service. I scrolled in further and saw my annual stations: the parking lot, the chapel, the pews just left of the lectern and finally the columbarium to visit my dad's remains.

Keep reading here—not only to find out how Hermann comes to grips with Google's surveillance of him, but for details from his conversation with Theo Patt, the creator of Location History Visualizer, who has heard from "worried partners" and "suspicious bosses... who have wanted to track employees' whereabouts during the day," not to mention law enforcement.

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