Google integrates its maps into its search results: synergy! What, then, is scrappy upstart search engine DuckDuckGo, which makes a point of not tracking its users,1 to do in response? Answer: use Apple Maps. “We’re excited to announce that map and address-related searches on DuckDuckGo for mobile and desktop are now powered by Apple’s MapKit JS framework, giving you a valuable combination of mapping and privacy.”
CNet’s Kent German asks people to stop tech-shaming over old phones and paper maps, though I’m not exactly sure who exactly does this (it’s not like he provides any examples). Anyway, one example he does use to bolster his argument is the time a paper map saved him from getting lost in France when his rental car’s GPS didn’t have updated maps; the graft to the larger argument in favour of not being so quick to abandon old tech in favour of the latest and greatest does leave some visible seams. (He also drags the post office into the argument. It’s Luddite potpourri.) [MAPS-L]
The argument for paper maps is getting ever more insistent, even shrill, but it seems to me to be mainly coming from the tech side of things. My impression is that the people who rely too much on mobile maps haven’t lost the ability to read maps; they never had it in the first place.
Previously: Popular Mechanics Proselytizes Paper Maps.
A long exposé from the New York Times explores just how much location data is collected from mobile apps, to the point where the identity of an anonymous user can be reconstructed from where they’ve been. The key point: whatever purpose the app is collecting your location for (for example, to give you your local weather), that location data may be shared with and sold to other parties.
Apple now has a fleet of cars collecting data for Apple Maps. Since they’ve been making a point about consumer privacy lately, this page lists where their cars are going to be in the coming weeks. (AppleInsider notes that some of that data collection is pedestrian-based.) It turns out Google has a page for Street View data collection that includes similar information, though it’s far less granular: windows of several months, whereas Apple tells you where it’ll be within a two-week timeframe.
Justin O’Beirne takes a deep dive into the new version of Apple Maps, which went live in iOS 12 in a few areas of California and Nevada. You will recall that Apple was reported to be rebuilding Apple Maps “from the ground up“: this is apparently the result. Verdict: lots of detail that can only have come from algorithmic processing of aerial imagery, but with some surprising blind spots. [Loop Insight]
Previously: Apple Maps Data Being Completely Rebuilt for iOS 12.
The Verge’s Dan Seifert tries out Google Maps and Waze on CarPlay, and concludes that “neither Google Maps or Waze are particularly compelling compared to their Android Auto counterparts or even Apple’s own Maps app.” The unkindest cut: “If I’m traveling somewhere unfamiliar, Apple Maps is just more reliable to use than Google Maps or Waze in CarPlay, which is frankly surprising to say.”
Meanwhile, Google Maps has added commuting features that include mixed-mode commute support (e.g., commutes that include a combination of driving, transit, walking or cycling), real-time bus and train locations (in some locations), and in-app music support; more at AppleInsider, Engadget and The Verge. Another new feature: group planning; see coverage at PC World and The Verge.
During a natural disaster like Hurricane Florence, crisis maps can be an invaluable source of information about road and bridge closures and other infrastructure outages. Trouble is, that information doesn’t always trickle down to mobile phones, which is where most people get their maps. (Especially when authorities have trouble keeping up with road closures on their own maps.) CityLab’s Clare Tran explores this question, looking at, for example, how Waze incorporates road closure data from Esri and its volunteers.
iOS 12, which adds support for third-party map apps in Apple CarPlay, was released on Monday. Google wasted no time: a day after that, they released version 5 of Google Maps for iOS, which adds CarPlay support. AppleInsider has a hands-on look at Google Maps on CarPlay. (CarPlay support is coming to Waze, but it’s apparently not ready yet.)
Previously: Third-Party Map Apps Coming to CarPlay in iOS 12.
An incident of map vandalism roiled the Internet last week. Users of several online services, including CitiBike, Foursquare and SnapChat, discovered that New York City had been relabelled “Jewtropolis” on the services’ maps: see coverage at Gizmodo, Mashable and TechCrunch. The problem was quickly traced to Mapbox, which provides maps to these services. Mapbox, understandably upset about the act of vandalism, soon figured out what the hell happened.
The problem was traced to OpenStreetMap, one of Mapbox’s data sources. On August 10 an OSM user renamed a number of New York landmarks, as well as New York itself, after a number of alt-right and neo-Nazi memes. The edits were quickly reverted and the user blocked—on OpenStreetMap. They nevertheless entered the Mapbox review pipeline, where they were, in fact, caught and flagged on the 16th, but a human editor mistakenly okayed the renaming of New York to Jewtropolis. A simple human error, but with a delayed fuse: the edit turned up on Mapbox’s public map two weeks later. When all hell broke loose on the 30th, the map was fixed within a few hours.
Vandalism of online maps isn’t a new thing: in 2015 Google ran into trouble when a series of juvenile map edits exposed the shortcomings of the Map Maker program’s moderation system and led to a temporary suspension of Map Maker (it closed for good in 2017) and an apology from Google. Anything involving user contributions needs a moderation system, and OpenStreetMap and Mapbox both have them. But moderation systems can and do still fail from time to time. (That’s a take on this incident that isn’t on Bill Morris’s list.)
Relying on your smartphone’s maps can be risky in places where cellular service is patchy. That goes for Gatineau Park, where, despite the fact that its southeast corner is surrounded by the city of Gatineau, Quebec (across the river from Ottawa), staff still recommend people use paper maps, CBC News reports. It’s a big park, after all, and not all of it is in the city. But it’s not just about dead zones and dead batteries: out of date trail information and lack of trail difficulty are also problems. None of these problems, mind you, are unfixable (except, you know, dead batteries).
The paper maps in question include general summer and winter maps, along with trail maps for summer and winter activities (all links to PDF files). They’re not total luddites: here’s an interactive map.
“Google wants to know where you go so badly that it records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to,” the Associated Press reports. Their exclusive investigation discovered that “many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you’ve used a privacy setting that says it will prevent Google from doing so.” Basically, turning the “Location History” feature off doesn’t stop Google apps from recording your location at various junctures: your location data may still be found in places like “My Activity” or “Web and App Activity,” for example. Google insists its descriptions are clear; critics are calling Google’s hairsplitting disingenuous, disturbing and wrong.
Traffic. Traffic congestion is a key feature of mobile mapping, and predicting it involves looking at historical data. CityLab reports on a recent study suggests that time-of-day electricity usage patterns can be used to predict traffic congestion patterns. A household that starts using power earlier in the morning gets up earlier and presumably will go to work earlier.) It’s another variable that can be put to use in traffic modelling.
Trail difficulty. OpenStreetMap doesn’t differentiate between “walk-in-the-park” trails and mountaineering routes, and that may have had something to do with hikers needing to be rescued from the side of a British Columbia mountain recently. The hikers apparently used OSM on a mobile phone app, and in OSM trail difficulty is an optional tag. The wisdom of using OSM in safety-critical environments notwithstanding, this is something that OSM editors need to get on. [Ian Dees]
Remember how in January the mobile fitness app Strava was found to reveal the training routes and user data of military and security personnel? It wasn’t just Strava. A joint investigation by Bellingcat and De Correspondent found that the data for users of the Polar Flow app is even more exposed: even the names and home addresses of military and intelligence personnel working at embassies, bases, intelligence agencies and other sensitive locations could be figured out from the user data. De Correspondent shows how.
Polar, the Finnish company behind the app and service, announced that they were suspending the Explore feature that made the data accessible. They also note, and it’s worth remembering, that Polar data is private by default. If you’re military or intelligence and using a fitness app, what the hell are you doing exposing your location data—especially if you’re in a sensitive location?
The report also contains one hell of a buried lede. They tested other apps, namely Strava, Endomondo and Runkeeper, and, well: “Though it’s harder to identify people and find their home addresses than it is through Polar, we were ultimately able to do so using these apps. In contrast to Polar’s app, there is no indication that people whose profiles are set to private can also be identified in these apps. We informed them of our findings last week.” In other words, this is an industry-wide problem, not just a problem with one or two services. [The Verge]