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 11:30 PM EST, Sun December 28, 2014
Les Abend: Before we reach a conclusion on the outcome of AirAsia Flight QZ8501, it's important to understand that the details are far too limited to draw a parallel to Flight 370
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 6:27 PM EST, Sat December 27, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT