Google Maps

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Google Maps
"Google Maps" Google Maps
Type Web mapping
Launch Date 2005
Status Active
Product Line product
Platform iOS, Android, Web apps, HTTPS web services[1]
Website Google Maps

Google Maps is a free online platform and mobile application used for geographical navigation. With over one billion monthly active users[2], Google Maps was the most downloaded mapping application in the United States in 2020[3]. Google Maps offers information regarding fastest route, distance in miles and estimate time of arrival for modes of transportation including driving, transit, walking, cycling and flight[4]. The map types offered by this application include a default roadmap, a satellite image map, a hybrid between roadmap and satellite image and a terrain map[5]. Third-parties have the ability to customize and display a map on their web pages and mobile devices because this application provides an application programming interface (API)[6]. Layers available on the Google Maps online platform and mobile application provide real-time traffic conditions, COVID-19 tracking, biking trails, transit routes, wildfire tracking and an interactive panorama called Street View. This technology also offers information on route and travel time for different modes of transportation including driving, transit, walking, cycling or flight[7].


Date Key Development
February, 2005 Google Maps is first launched as a desktop application[8].
December, 2005 Public transit schedules and routes becomes available to commuters for the first time[8].
May, 2007 Debut of Street View[8].
November, 2007 Google Maps 2.0 is announced. This update includes a beta version of "My Location", which uses nearby cell towers to provide users with their current location[9].
September, 2008 Google Maps becomes available in the Android operating system[10].
December, 2012 Google Maps becomes available for iOS users in the Apple App Store[11].
June, 2014 My Business is added as a way for business owners to update their information, add photographs and business hours, respond to reviews and more[8].
November, 2015 Offline maps become available for users. With this update, users no longer need WiFi to receive turn-by-turn updates. In addition, Local Guides were also introduced this month. Users now have the ability to join a community that shares knowledge of places around the world through reviews, photographs and more[8].
October 2017 While in globe view, users can see other planets by zooming out of Earth until they are in space[12].
March, 2018 Wheelchair-accessible routes are added to help those with mobility needs in transit and navigation[8].
July, 2018 Major changes are made to the Google Maps API[13].
February, 2019 Live View is introduced as a way to use augmented reality as navigation. While walking, users can hold their device's camera in front of them to see arrows and directions on their screen to aid in navigation[8].
October, 2019 Google Maps now includes a way to report driving incidents[14].
December, 2019 Incognito mode is added[15].
September, 2020 The COVID-19 Information layer becomes available[16].


Boston, Massachusetts using the Hybrid map mode [17]

Map Type

Google Maps offers four different map types: roadmap, satellite, hybrid and terrain. The roadmap is the default map for Google Maps and has a cartoonish look. When zoomed into an area, road, building and landmarks appear as labeled. Areas were water appear are blue, urbanized areas are gray, dry areas are light yellow and areas where vegetation occur are green. Furthermore, the satellite map displays satellite images of an area. When the labels option is selected while in satellite mode, the hybrid map appears. This map is a satellite image that has major streets labeled. Finally, the terrain feature displays the terrain and vegetation in an area[18]. All map types can either be displayed as a flat map or in a globe view, which presents the Earth as a spherical shape as a user zooms all the way out of a region. Additionally, layers can be applied to every map type.


Layers, which can be found under Map Details, allow users to add one or multiple objects to their map. Available layers include transit, traffic, biking, street view, COVID-19 information and wildfires.


Users can view public transportation options such as bus, subway and rail routes with the Transit layer. Users can select the station icon for more information regarding upcoming buses and trains. Additionally, when possible, Google Maps tries to match the colored lines to the color system used by the transportation agency [19]. Transit agencies can share their routes, stop and schedules with Google Maps for that information to appear with this layer[20].

Example of Real-Time Traffic in Dallas, Texas [17]

With the Traffic layer, users have the option to display real-time or typical traffic information. The real-time traffic information is based on current traffic conditions, while the typical traffic information is based on patterns observed over time. Google Maps makes use of these typical traffic patterns when making for predictions how long a future trip will take. Users can see different traffic conditions in a given area any day of the week between 6am and 10pm. In addition, Google Maps uses different colors to indicate the traffic level and symbols to show traffic incidents. These incidents include crashes, construction, road closure or other[19]. Google Maps will automatically display traffic conditions for roads in your route, but this layer allows for a user to see traffic conditions everywhere[21].


The Biking layer displays biking routes, and it uses different colors to indicate the condition or type of bike path. Light green indicates a road with a dedicated bike lane, dark green indicates trails and paths, brown represents a dirt or unpaved road and dashed lines mean the road is bicycle-friendly[22].

Street View

The Street View layer allows users to explore the world using a 360-degree virtual representation of their surroundings. Google uses Street View Cars, Trekkers, Trolleys, Snowmobiles and Three-Wheelers to obtain the panoramic images needed for this feature. Google blurs out faces and license plates for privacy reasons. On their website, Google announces to the public a range of when they could be in a specific city[23].

COVID-19 Information layer across the United States [17]
COVID-19 Information

Users have access to statistics regarding the 7-day average for new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people with the COVID-19 layer. The map displays whether the number of new cases is increasing or decreasing and indicates the number of cases in an area with different colors [24]. However, Google Maps includes positive tests to create this data, which differs from a positive case. These positive tests may include false positives or more than one positive test from the same individual. Furthermore, Google Maps informs its user about how the data changes rapidly and may not reflect the current state because different areas report their cases differently [25].


The Wildfire feature displays the size, boundaries and location of real-time wildfires[26]. Users can click on an area that has a fire to be redirected to emergency websites and evacuation information. In a few countries, data regarding containment, road closures and number of acres burned is also included[27].


An Application Programming Interface (API) allows for programs to communicate with one another[28]. The API for Google Maps allows for different websites to implement the features of Google Maps into their website. These websites have the ability to customize the look and functionality of the map in order to display useful information to their users [29].


Google Maps categorizes its features into five different tabs: Explore, Go, Saved, Contribute and Updates.

Explore Tab [17]


The Explore tab provides personalized recommendations for nearby food and drinks, things to do, shopping and services. The user can use filters such as distance, rating, hours or price to limit the amount of suggestions. For each recommendation, users have the option to save a destination which they can then access under the Saved tab. Users are provided with details, the address, a phone number, hours of operation, photos, a graph of busiest hours and reviews for each recommendation.


The Go tab allows for the user to pin trips for quick access to directions and estimated time of arrival [30]. Once a destination is pinned, it appears in a list that includes a button to instantly start navigation. In addition to pinned trips, Google Maps makes suggestions based off of frequently searched destinations. The Go tab acts as an alternative to repeatedly searching for a destination[31].


With the Saved tab, users can create and categorize lists of destination. By default, users are prompted to add destinations to their Favorites list or Want to go list. Users have the opportunity to create their own list by giving it a name, an optional description, and deciding whether they want their list to be private, public or shared with another user. Once a list is created, users can publish their list on Google Maps so it is linked to their account, add destination to it or share its link. When users save a destination, they are prompted to select which list or lists they would like to save to and if they would like to add an additional note. Once a destination is on a list, Google Maps keeps track of whether or not the location has been visited.

Google Maps also offers a private Timeline feature that uses a users location history to make an estimate on recent visited destinations and routes. This Timeline keeps track of all the cities, countries and attractions a user has visited [32].


Users can edit the map, add places, write reviews and upload photos using the Contribute tab. To do so, users have the opportunity to become a Local Guide. This feature is used to help local communities share if a business is temporarily closed or has reopened, report false information such as a missing place, submit corrections to roads, offer opinions about already existing places and more. Any contribution that is accepted earns a user points, and points help a user go up in levels. When a user makes a contribution, others users can see the level of the posting user, which influence trust and authenticity[33].


Google Maps receives tens of thousands of updates every single day[2]. In its Updates tab, users can see trending businesses as well as reach out to businesses with the message feature [34].


In order to get a user from their starting location to their destination in the shortest and most convenient route, Google Maps makes use of shortest path algorithms.

Dijkstra's Algorithm

Dijkstra's Algorithm is a greedy algorithm used to find the shortest path between two nodes in a graph with weighted edges [35]. For roadmaps, this greedy algorithm uses intersections as nodes and roads as the edge, where the weight is represented by distance[36]. For Google Maps, the algorithm uses a user's starting location as the source node and their destination as the destination node. The algorithm first creates a variable that will be used to keep track of total distance. The algorithm also initializes an empty set which is used to store all nodes in the shortest path. At first, this set contains only the source node, which is the starting active node. The algorithm looks at all nodes surrounding the active node to determine which connecting edge yields the minimum distance. Once a minimum distance is found, the distance is added to the total distance variable, and the connected node is added to the set. This node becomes the new active node, and the process is repeated until the destination node is reached [37].

A* Algorithm

The A* Algorithm is similar to Dijkstra's algorithm, but it instead uses a heuristic function to find a more efficient path. Instead of exploring all of the nodes like in Dijkstra's Algorithm, the A* Algorithm is a greedy Best-First-Search algorithm[37]. A Best-First-Search algorithm uses a function that determines which node adjacent to your current node is the most promising. Once the most promising node is selected, the process repeats and another promising node is found until the destination node is reached[38]. There is a tradeoff between time and complexity when using this algorithm; although it may require more memory than Dijkstra's Algorithm, the A* Algorithm is faster. Thus, Google Maps has begun to use this algorithm to find the shortest path between a user's starting location and destination[37].

Ethical Dilemmas

Privacy and Data Mining

Data mining is the process of using large amounts of data from users to make predictions[39]. Companies data mine to make better recommendations for a buyer and to tailor ads to their liking [40]. However, if someone does not realize their data is being harvested or how it is used, they have no chance to consent or stop the process[41]. Additionally, it is possible for the data mined from a user to be a misrepresentation [42].

Google's My Activity feature and Dashboard give users transparency over what data is collected across all of Google's services. Google also implemented privacy controls such as Activity Controls and Ad Settings in order for users to have more control over the collection and use of their data as well as the ads that are shown. In Activity Controls, the user decides the type of data collection associated with their account. The user can opt to pause specific types of data collection such as Search history, browning activity, Location History or YouTube History. Furthermore, Google has implemented a way for users to be reminded to change their privacy settings [43]. Additionally, Google has made incognito mode available for Google Maps. This mode is not the default setting, so users need to navigate to their settings to initiate it [44]. When this setting is enabled, Good Maps does not store a user’s search or browsing history to their account, update a user's Location History or shared location (if applicable), or use collected data to personalize recommendations[45]. Once the Incognito window is closed, a user’s cookies and data are deleted[43].

Location Sharing and Stalking

Google Maps includes a tool that allows a user to share their current location with other users. This location sharing feature allows for friends, families and co-workers to see a user's location on a map in real-time. A user can adjust the time duration for how long they want to share their location. They can choose between one to twelve hours, a full day, or indefinitely. Furthermore, a user's location can only be seen by whoever they chose to share it with. A user can request another user's location, but the location will not be shared without consent[46]. Aside from saying no to a location request, a user can block another user from asking them for their location. By default, the location of a user is update every one hour. Once a location is shared, the user has access to the phone battery percentage of the other user, directions to their current address and the ability to refresh in order to get a more accurate coordinate. Additionally, there is a beta Live View feature that uses the data it has collected in Street View to direct a camera using the camera on their device[47].

For some people, sharing their location with a loved one makes them feel safe. A user may find comfort in knowing a loved one is watching their location as they walk home alone at night. A user may also use Location Sharing just in case they were to lose their phone or go missing. Additionally, some people may find it convenient to check their spouse's location if they are running late[48]. Although some people believe location sharing is convenient or useful for safety reasons, others feel that it is an invasion of privacy. The Location Sharing feature in Google Maps can lead to stalking. Stalking is a pattern of behavior that leads an individual to feel fear [49]. When someone refresh's a user's current location, the user is not notified. Additionally, a user is not notified as to how many times a day someone else checks their location. Unwanted and persistent stalking can lead a victimized individual to change their daily routines or avoid social scenes, and can cause significant mental health problems [50].

99 smartphones pulled in wagon cause Google Maps to display a traffic jam [51]

Crowdsourcing Traffic Data

Google Maps uses crowdsourcing to help inform users about potential traffic jams. Crowdsourcing is the act of using contributions from a large group of people to gather data[52]. Google Maps crowdsources by monitoring the speed and location of its users as they move down a road. In 2020, a man named Simon Weckert had the idea to trick Google Maps by pulling 99 smartphones in a wagon down a street in Berlin. Although the street was empty, Google Maps reported that there was heavy traffic in the area [53].

Fake Local Businesses

Anyone with a Google account can add a local business to Google Maps. To add a business, a user can type in the business's address, right-click anywhere on the map or select the Menu option. After you select the location, Google Maps prompts the user to create a Business Profile to add additional information [54]. In an attempt to minimize fraudulent businesses, Google sends a postcard to the newly added business address that contain a special verification code. However, individuals have found ways around this verification method. Once someone verifies the code, their business is allowed to move locations without needing to submit another verification code if the move is within the same zip code. Thus, if someone were to send the code to another mailbox within the same zip code, they could get around this verification check. These individuals can then scam others who believe their businesses is real [55].

Furthermore, any user can claim a local business as their own if it is not previously claimed. If an individual who did not actually own the business received this code instead of the actual business owner, they would have control over what information is displayed on Google Maps [56]. This individual could scam the business and its customers by acting as a middleman. They could also steal the company's business and redirect their customers to a competing site [55].


Wheelchair users can use the Accessibility setting in Google Maps to check if a building has wheelchair-accessible entrances, seating, restrooms, parking or elevators. If a building has a wheelchair-accessible entrance, a wheelchair icon will appear in the business description. To see every wheelchair accessibility available, a user can click on the About tab and look at the Accessibility section. This setting is not the default setting. When a user selects this setting, they are warned that the Accessibility may differ from real-world conditions. Google Maps is able to update a business's accessibility with the help of Local Guides. Local Guides are given criteria for what counts as wheelchair accessible. For example, Local Guides are told a business entrance is accessible if there are no steps and the door is at least three feet wide [57].

Furthermore, Google Maps has implemented features to aid people who have vision impairments. While using the walking feature, Google Maps gives the option for a more detailed voice overview in addition to verbal announcements. With this feature, Google Maps will announce the distance between a user's current location and their next turn, the direction they are walking in and if they are on the correct route. If the user strays away from the suggested route, they receive an announcement that they are being re-routed. To continue, at intersections, Google notifies the user to cross with caution. Although those with sight may not notice these features, those who have vision impairments can feel more confidence when traveling by themselves[58].

See Also


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