Google wants to be your tour guide, but is that a good thing?
Published 22/09/2016 | 01:00
Google has launched Google Trips, a new smartphone app described as a “personalised tour guide in your pocket”.
The internet search giant claims Trips will not only help users manage their travel arrangements – from hotel bookings to flights – but also chaperone them around popular tourist attractions. Tour guides will no doubt be worried.
The app works offline – travellers can download everything to their phone before setting off – though it does require users to log in with a Google account, from which the app extracts relevant information about your trip from Google Mail, such as hotel confirmations and e-tickets.
One of the key features of the app, crows Google, is its trip-planning function, which generates travel itineraries for users based on what other travellers like. Algorithm-based tourism, if you will. Those who aren’t inspired by the suggestions can tap a magic wand-shaped icon to view another set of recommendations.
At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. When I roadtested the app it wasn’t playing ball: after asking it to create an itinerary in London, the app responded: “Failed to create trip. Try again later.” I tried again later, again it failed.
The app was also unable to identify nearby tourist attractions, despite using it within half a mile of Buckingham Palace. The only thing it succeeded in doing was draining my phone battery; teething problems, no doubt, because other travellers have reported using the app successfully.
Assuming it does work, Google Trips might seem like a handy travel companion. However, there are some issues travellers may want to consider before using it, chiefly privacy. In its policy, Google makes no bones about it: one of the reasons it mines information from you is to better target you with adverts. The more you give it, the better it gets at selling to you.
Google Trips will also, by virtue of its design, take away some of the things that are so enriching about travel: getting lost, stumbling upon something unexpected, having a chance encounter. The likelihood of these things happening will surely diminish the more we’re buried in our phones.
If you’re looking for an example of how this might play out, look no further than Google’s own saccharine promotional video for Trips (above).
In it, we see a young traveller recoiling from a hotel receptionist as he attempts to impart travel advice to her. Rather than endeavouring to make sense of him, or indeed strike up a relationship, the traveller disappears into the familiar glow of her smartphone, which has, once again, severed another avenue of human interaction.
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