Skip to main content

Give Apple maps a chance

By Janet Vertesi, Special to CNN
updated 12:14 PM EDT, Sun October 7, 2012
Users of Apple's maps app have complained about incorrect maps and satellite views that just don't make sense.
Users of Apple's maps app have complained about incorrect maps and satellite views that just don't make sense.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • User complaints prompted Apple to apologize for its new maps app
  • Janet Vertesi: I was delighted that Apple no longer relied on Google Maps
  • She says Google's privacy policy aggregated users' personal data for profit
  • Vertesi: Breaking the Google monopoly means that all of our choices can improve

Editor's note: Janet Vertesi teaches sociology of technology and human-computer interaction at Princeton University. Follow her on Twitter: @cyberlyra.

(CNN) -- A recent torrent of complaints has prompted Apple CEO Tim Cook to issue a public apology for the company's new maps app in the iPhone 5 and iOS 6, which previously relied on Google Maps. Addresses are not showing up correctly, public transit directions aren't available, and the satellite views make it look as if the Brooklyn Bridge is bending into the Hudson River.

Unlike the naysayers, I was delighted to see the change. That's because six months ago, I broke up with Google.

It's not a decision I made lightly. I was in an intimate relationship with the company for years. Google knew what I watched on YouTube and which trains I caught into New York City for a night out. It facilitated collaborations with my colleagues and helped me navigate foreign cities. We had some good times together, Google and I.

Opinion: Why a naked Apple would be a better company

Janet Vertesi
Janet Vertesi

But over time, our relationship changed. Ads started to show up based on keywords that I had typed into the search engine or in my e-mail. In Google search, things I was looking for were now buried beneath "helpful" suggestions of things I wasn't interested in in the slightest.

The problem was Google's latest privacy policy, which went into effect in March. Google's new rules mean that in addition to tracking your activities, it can aggregate your data across its many services and platforms such as Google Maps, Gmail, search, and Gchat, for starters.

Apple apologizes for Maps app problems
Apple's map hiccups
CNN tests out Apple's map app

Why does Google collect and aggregate your information? Because when Google has a better picture of who you are, what you like and what you do online, it becomes even more attractive to advertisers. While Google's ecosystem offers many appealing perks and conveniences, the price you pay is your personal data.

In short, when you use a Google service, you're not using a product -- you are the product.

So I took matters into my own hands, and broke up with Google.

Anyone coming out of a long-term relationship will tell you that breaking up is hard to do. You have to change your patterns. My first step was obviously to switch search engines. But to what? The old alternatives are all gone, absorbed by Google, Yahoo! and Bing. To make matters worse, I discovered that my own devices were working against me. Clicking a link on my computer or phone automatically opened Google Maps, search, or YouTube.

I had to find new ways. Juggling directions from Nokia, Bing and MapQuest has led me on several wild goose chases while trying to get from A to B. I also spread my activities across multiple servers. I deleted my YouTube account, set my search engine to Duck Duck Go (a service that doesn't track search information), and logged into AIM.

Deleting my Gmail account was the hardest -- and most revealing. It reminded me of the evil computer HAL 9000's death scene at the end of "2001: A Space Odyssey." As I selected all the messages I have ever received and clicked the delete button, the system protested: Was I sure I wanted to do this? It reminded me of all our good times together by telling me we'd shared "38,496 conversations since 2008."

In defense of my stupidphone

The ad bar stopped showing ads and started displaying environmentally friendly statements. Did I know that "there is no limit to the number of times an aluminum can can be recycled"? Or that "empty tissue boxes can provide easy and handy storage for plastic grocery bags"? I felt pangs of guilt and regret. When the screen finally displayed, "You don't have any mail! Our servers are feeling unloved," I almost changed my mind.

That's when it hit me. I thought we had an intimate relationship, when in fact I was being manipulated into codependence. Service by service, Google had convinced me that I needed it for everything, all to seduce me into giving up more of my personal data.

Of course, Apple collects user information as well. But it is not the company's main source of revenue. Apple users pay for their products in dollars, not in personal information. Its closed system of products and devices, while decried among tech pundits, is its advantage.

Apple also has a long history of treating its users not like products, but like consumers. This incentivizes improvements that put the user first, giving us a more powerful voice. After all, we can vote with our dollars and with our downloads.

Breaking the Google monopoly means that all of our choices can improve. And that's why Apple's leaving Google Maps is a step in the right direction.

In the meanwhile, as long as I know where my information is going, I don't mind getting a little lost.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Janet Vertesi.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:56 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:28 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 4:08 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT