Personal data is a big deal in the modern world: companies collect it, cybercriminals steal it, governments demand it, and the general public probably underestimates it. Despite that, we find it hard to care about raw, machine-readable data, even if we know we should. Visualizing it brings it to a level that we can use and understand.
Visualizing Your Location History with Google Timeline
You have a few options for visualizing your location history. The first, and simplest, is Google’s very own Timeline tool, which you can access by signing in at Google Timeline and seeing a map with dots that show you every place Google logged your coordinates.
It’s nice because it just takes a few clicks, it tells you about trips you’ve taken, and gives you a few tools to see all your movements over time. Its more minimalist visualizations lack the easy visual impact of a heatmap, though. The dots don’t even change size or color depending on how often you’ve visited a place.
That’s why the Location History Visualizer tool is really where you should look if you really want to understand your habits and get a feel for what can be done with your location data. It shows you everywhere you’ve been, down to what streets you walked on to get there, and color-codes the places by how often they appear in your data. It’s a little more complicated to generate, but it’s worth it. If you’re worried about your data (and at this point, you might be) the site is private and secure. All the processing is done locally, so your data will never leave your computer.
Also read: 4 Ways Google Tracks You and How to Stop it
1. Export Your Location History With Google Takeout
This is your one-stop shop for all your Google data, and that’s where your location visualization journey also begins. Here's how you can export it using the tool.
- Sign in to Google Takeout.
- Click “Deselect all” — especially if you’ve been using your account for a long time. Google stores a whole lot of information and if you leave all of these options checked, your exported file will end up being several gigabytes large. So save yourself the hard disk space and time.
- Scroll down until you find “Location History,” and only tick this checkbox.
- Head all the way to the bottom of the page and click the “Next step” button.
- After clicking the button, you’ll automatically be zipped back up to the top of the page where you can edit a few options regarding your data export, like the way the export is delivered, the frequency in which you want it to occur, the file type, and more. Leaving the default selection as it is should be fine, or you can fiddle around with some of the options to suit your needs.
- Once you’re ready, click the “Create export” button near the bottom of the page to start generating the information you need. This could take several minutes depending on how much information needs to be processed.
- When the processing is complete, a “Download” button will appear which you should click.
- You’ll be taken to another page where you have to input your password. Do just that, then hit the “Next” button to continue.
- You’ll be returned to the previous page and your download will begin after a few seconds. All you need to do now is head to the location the file was downloaded and unzip/extract it.
2. Import the Data to Location History Visualizer
There are a few sites that let you visualize your Google location history, and you can even do it yourself with tools like Tableau, but Location History Visualizer is probably still the best. Here, we’ll be using the free version of Location History Visualizer, though they also have a paid pro version that allows you to get extremely detailed with your location data.
- Find your “Records” JSON file in the Takeout folder you downloaded from Google.
- Go to Location History Visualizer, then drag and drop the JSON file from the folder onto the site.
- Wait for the file to be analyzed.
- Enter your email address or use a disposable one.
- Enjoy your map! Try zooming in to places around your home or work; you can even see what streets you prefer the most. Below is a heatmap from a city I spent a lot of time in South Korea – can you tell where my favorite neighborhoods are?
How To Disable Google Location History
You can easily disable your account’s Google Location History using your desktop or mobile device at any time, if you don't want Google tracking your movements. To turn it off, simply follow the steps below.
Disable Google Location History on Desktop
- On your Google Account, visit Location History.
- To disable Location History, click "Turn off".
- Click "Pause".
- Click "Got it". Now your Google Location History is off.
Note that all your previous activity won’t be deleted once you turn off your Location History settings. You’ll have to manually delete them if you wish.
Disable Google Location History Using Mobile Device
- Open your Google Maps app, and tap your profile photo on the top-right part of the screen.
- Tap "Your timeline."
- Press "More" (three small dots located on the top-right corner).
- Tap "Settings and Privacy."
- Click "Location History is on."
- Tap "Turn off".
- Click "Pause".
- Press "Ok" and your Location History setting is now off.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How accurate is Google Timeline?
If you’re going through some of your previous locations in Google Timeline and find some places that you don’t remember visiting, don’t panic. The feature certainly isn’t 100% accurate. In fact, it gets a lot of your location data wrong quite often and works mostly through approximation. If you want to, you can even go back to previous locations on your timeline and edit them so they’re more accurate.
2. Can anyone else see my timeline?
According to Google, no one else but you can see their own timeline. However, it’s a different story if someone else gains access to your Google account or you leave it logged in on a shared computer. In cases like the latter, Google Timeline would automatically pull up the location history of the Google account currently accessed in the web browser.
3. What else can I do with Google Takeout?
Google Takeout gives you access to virtually every scrap of information that’s related to your Google account, from your YouTube search history and posted comments to your Gmail messages and Google Drive files. You can even pull up data about your Google Play Store app installations. It’s an amazing tool for backing up very specific content from your Google account or for migrating the information to another platform.
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