This Tool Creates a Heat Map of All the Places You've Visited

Screenshot of the Location History Visualizer tool
Screenshot of the Location History Visualizer tool

Can’t remember the address of that cafe you visited five years ago? Want to keep track of all the places you’ve visited around the world? Perhaps you just want to know how much Google knows about your whereabouts. (Hint: It’s a lot.)

A tool spotted by Lifehacker lets you download your entire Google location history and neatly present it in a “heat map,” with different colored blobs representing the places you’ve been. It’s called the Location History Visualizer, and although the company charges a one-time fee for premium features, the heat map tool is free.

“Everyone deserves to know what data is being collected about them, without having to fiddle with cryptic pieces of software,” according to the description on GitHub, where the data for the open-source project is being hosted. The steps are simple to follow, but it may take a while to download your location history, depending on how far and wide you’ve traveled.

You’ll want to keep two tabs open: the Google Takeout website and the Location History Visualizer site. On Google Takeout, choose “select none” at the top of the page, then toggle “location history” only. After hitting “next,” you’ll be prompted to choose the file type, archive size, and delivery method, but the default settings are suitable for most people’s needs. Finally, click “create archive” and download the file.

When it’s ready, you’ll click the Location History folder, then drag the LocationHistory.json file and drop it onto the Location History Visualizer page (alternately, you can upload it). Simply submit your email and your personalized heat map will be ready to view. You can drag and zoom in just like you would use Google Maps, but keep in mind that any places you visited in foreign countries will be presented in the local language.

As Lifehacker notes, you (and Google, of course) are the only ones that will be able to see your location data. According to an AP investigation, Google tracks the location of those with Android phones, as well as iPhone users who have Google Maps installed. Turning off Location History doesn’t stop you from being tracked, either. If you feel a little weirded out after seeing how much data Google has on you, you can put an end to it by changing the Web & App Activity settings in your Google Account. Check out this step-by-step guide from Wired for detailed instructions.

[h/t Lifehacker]

Smart TVs Are Cheaper Than Ever, and It's Because They're Selling Your Data

iStock.com/97
iStock.com/97

Thanks to plummeting retail prices on televisions, it's possible to walk out of a store with a 55-inch or 65-inch display for under $500. These aren't bare-bones models, either. Smart TVs from manufacturers like Vizio and TCL offer cutting-edge 4K resolution and High Dynamic Range (HDR) capability. If you have the right video source from a streaming service or 4K DVD player, the image quality can be staggering.

Depending on the model and manufacturer, some of these budget-friendly televisions achieve their attractive price points by collecting and selling your data.

In a candid interview with the Verge in January 2019, Vizio chief technology officer Bill Baxter illustrated the business model. Baxter explained that the low profit margins of televisions meant that the company was more interested in covering the cost and then seeing revenue from consumers using the television.

"You make a little money here, a little money there," Baxter said. "You sell some movies, you sell some TV shows, you sell some ads, you know. It's not really that different than the Verge website."

Because these televisions are often connected to the internet, they're able to track usage—what kind of content you watch through a built-in streaming app like Roku, your location, and which ads you're paying attention to. Depending on the video service you're using, Vizio can also get a portion of sales from on-demand content like movies.

According to Baxter, Vizio's philosophy is that monetizing hardware in this manner keeps costs down for every consumer, even if they opt out of data collecting. Of course, viewers paying only halfhearted attention to the television's disclaimers during the initial set-up process may not realize the extent of the information they're agreeing to share by default.

Nor has the company always been so transparent. In 2017, Vizio settled a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that alleged they collected data from 10 million sets without the consent of the consumer, including IP addresses. The information was gathered through a feature called Smart Interactivity, which promoted itself as being able to help the consumer find content and customize advertising based on viewing habits. The complaint, filed by the FTC and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, was settled for $2.2 million. Vizio admitted no wrongdoing and said that no viewing data was paired with personal information.

Another data collection service, Samba TV, has relationships with manufacturers like Sony, Sharp, TCL, and Phillips. The consumer is urged to enable the software when a television is first plugged in to get content recommendations. If users opt in, Samba TV tracks virtually everything that appears onscreen, learning what shows viewers are watching, and then works with advertisers to target ads to other devices connected to the internet in the home. (A notable exception is Netflix, which has agreements with manufacturers that prohibit third-party tracking on their service.) In 2018, Samba TV said it was collecting information from 13.5 million televisions in the United States.

The moral? If you own a smart TV, it's probably in your best interests to examine the data acquisition policy and opt out through the menu system. If not, be aware that your television is no longer a passive display. It's watching you.

[h/t Business Insider]

Sesame Street Deals With Cell Phone Addiction in New PSA

Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Sesame Street has tackled a lot of complicated subjects over its 50-year run, from divorce to post-traumatic stress. For a new PSA, Elmo, Big Bird, and the rest of the characters from Sesame Street address a problem that's unique to modern viewers: cell phone addiction.

As Fast Company reports, the new Sesame Street video, produced in honor of the show's 50th anniversary this year, is part of the "Device Free Dinner" campaign from Common Sense Media. In the clip, the cast of Sesame Street is shown getting ready for dinner by putting away their digital devices (or whatever they use to communicate: Abby Cadabby hangs up her magic wand and Ernie puts away of his banana phone).

The only Muppet who brings his phone to the dinner table is Cookie Monster. But despite his addictive personality, even he understands the importance of screen-free time with his friends—and he gets rid of his device by eating it.

The PSA is brief, but it brings an important issue to light: The average smart phone owner touches their device 2600 times a day, and when they do, they get a small dopamine boost. That pleasurable feeling associated with phone use can lead to compulsive behaviors that look a lot like addiction.

You might be addicted to your mobile device if it starts interfering with your life—i.e. you would rather check your phone at dinnertime than interact with the real people at the table with you, the same thing the "Device Free Dinner" campaign is trying to prevent. You can watch the full PSA below.

[h/t Fast Company]

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