Google maps bias

Gmaps Eco route

I really like Google maps and used it since 2005. I means whats not to like from offline support to step by step directions.

However… driving directions which most people use a lot has bias.

I drive around on a maxi-scooter (600cc Silverwing) with a headset in my helmet. I can not see my phone while driving around and rely on google maps to tell me where to go (only if I don’t know where I am going).

There are some annoyances which I have mentioned elsewhere, but yesterday while trying to drive to a friends house via the Pennines it became super clear some of the bias of google maps. Bias towards car drivers who care about fuel and not the wellbeing of the driver.

  • Google maps really needs the option to drive via A roads and B roads (only if essential). The fastest route always takes you technically faster route, down country lanes. The route gmaps took me on yesterday, was full of country lanes and one of them was water logged. Fine for a SUV or big car but not for a 2 wheel scooter.
  • The above might seem quite scooter focused but as my partner pointed out on a journey to Bournemouth this year. She would rather had taken a A road most of the way instead of the headache of navigating country roads for over an hour. I had hoped eco drive would solve this but nope.
  • Another one from my partner but makes sense for motorbikes too. When Gmaps finds a quicker route, there should be an option to set the default to the original route unless you press the screen. Its really frustrating to have it change the route without being able to see what’s changed.
  • Likewise this is useful for car drivers who don’t want to press the screen in the middle of driving.
  • The stops option is useful for the route but when you reach the stop, it doesn’t continue on to the next stop automatically unless you press the screen. This means you can plot the perfect route but then need to press the screen each time. This should be a preference option again.
  • I once drove down to Bristol and Gmaps just stopped talking to me. Usually if this happens, it means keep going. However when it goes quiet due to a bug/error theres no way to know, especially on a motorway. Maybe a small beep every set minutes would be most useful.
  • It would be great if Gmaps on mobile used some of the contextual data. For example Gmaps could understand if I’m on a motorbike oppose to a car. The time of day to pick routes with street lights. Weather conditions could be useful to avoid flood risk roads. Of course these can adjusted in the preferences, otherwise they could be annoying for some drivers.

I’m sure there are many more but this are ones which come to mind since yesterday. Its clear google maps isn’t ideal for non screen viewing.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.