Skip to main content

Give Apple maps a chance

By Janet Vertesi, Special to CNN
October 7, 2012 -- Updated 1614 GMT (0014 HKT)
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
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT