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Category Archives: google

My Tracks: The real reason Google is shutting it down

The Android app My Tracks is being killed on April 30, 2016.  It’s not just be abandoned, to never receive another update.  It’s being killed.  It will no longer operate past the above date. This is a rather strong move by Google.  Why are they doing it?  This is their given reason:

After April 30, 2016, My Tracks will no longer be available. We apologize for the inconvenience this might cause My Tracks users. We’ve made the tough decision to invest our efforts into other, more wide-reaching, mapping projects. Below are some resources to help you manage or export your data and find other apps to continue tracking your activities.

This is the bullshit reason.  The real reason might make you angry, if you are a user of My Tracks.

My Tracks lets you record information about walks, runs and other physical activity.  It does so with the GPS on your phone and records it to your phone.  You have the option of uploading that data to your Google account. It’s your data and Google doesn’t have access to it.  There’s no “save to the cloud” or “share with your friends” or anything like that. In other words, there’s no way for Google to monetize (i.e., make money off) your data.

Google has pointed to several applications that are good replacements for My Tracks. Google Fit being one.  The difference between all of them and My Tracks is clear: they all are social applications which store your data in the cloud, so they can do what they want with it.  The Google app, Fit, is clearly designed like this.  The non-Google apps are, too, and many of them, while free, have in-app purchases for sharing features, etc.

My Tracks was killed because it directly competed with Google Fit.  My Tracks was killed because Google cannot make money off you when you use it1, unlike Google Fit.

So why does this matter?  Why am I so sensitive about my data being in the cloud and used by others for monetary gain?  1) They aren’t being honest about what they are doing. Period. 2) We’ve already given up so much privacy by carry smart phones, and I don’t want to give up anymore of it. My walks are my private business. Something stored in the cloud can be accessed or stolen by others. I don’t want my regular activities to be known by people other than my family.

You might say, it’s open source software, so someone else can maintain it, if Google doesn’t want to, right?  Wrong.  Google removed the source code from public view more than a year ago:

We no longer update the open source version of My Tracks, and we will remove these sources after 1/1/15.

They planned well ahead, making people think they were merely abandoning the software, so that when they did kill it, it was less likely someone would have the source code.  Also, the source code, at the time they killed it, would be quite out of date (having been updating it for more than a year from the time the source code went private).

I’ve been a long-time user of My Tracks.  I started using it with my OG Droid, an early Android phone by Motorola.  Through all the upgrades, I’ve used My Tracks to record walks.  It’s a great tool and I really enjoyed using it.  I spent a few hours looking for an alternative app that won’t have access to my data and I failed to find one.  Should a reader of this post know of one, please let me know.

I know what I’ll do on April 30, 2016.  I’ll uninstall My Tracks and not install any of the suggested alternatives.  My phone will be a little less fun to me, and that is the fault of Google.

1Whether Google does now, or will at some point in the future, monetize your Google Fit data is irrelevant. We, as users of Android phones, cannot know what Google monetizes. We know they monetize a lot of our data, and it makes them a lot of money. There’s a saying: If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold. That certainly applies here. I would be happy to pay for a My Tracks app, so I am the customer.

Google doesn’t really care about the horrible bugs that cause you pain

In the earlier days of using Google wares, I feel they were responsive to feedback and would fix serious problems in their services or products.  These days, not so much.  Witness the Nexus 4.  Their flagship Android phone, the Nexus 4 should get the best Google has to offer.  So, why would they allow serious software defects to mar the experience of owning a Nexus 4?

Notifications over Wi-Fi don’t work when the phone goes to sleep!  This is a horrible, horrible bug.  It means you won’t get notified of emails or texts when your phone is sleeping.  Which is most of the time, as we all know.  This bug is been around since the N4 came out.  Still unresolved, though this issue is marked “Closed” and “Status: FutureRelease,” the latter of which presumably means it will be fixed in the future.

Bluetooth often stops working and requires the phone to be rebooted to fix it!  Bluetooth is an essential feature for many, and having to reboot your phone (which takes minutes!) is not a viable workaround.

Originally reported on 1/3/2013, these are just two of the bugs on the N4.  However, they are both serious enough to warrant an immediate Android update.  Android 4.2.2 was released since Google was made aware of these bugs, and they were not fixed in that release.  Android 4.3 was released yesterday, so we’ll see if Google has decided to fix these major defects, or not.

These are not the only serious defects that Google is ignoring.  Another example is my Chromebook: for nearly a month Google Docs didn’t work on the thing.  Then, one day, it magically started working again.  A Chromebook without Google Docs is pretty useless.  Can you imagine Microsoft breaking Office for a month?  Can you imagine the cries for the heads of Microsoft executives you’d hear on the internet?  I found other users in my same boat, but I saw little else.

These issues all illustrate my point that Google doesn’t  care about you or your user experience.  You are a product to Google, you are not the customer.  I don’t know who said this, but it bears repeating: if you aren’t paying for a service, then you are the product not the customer.

I’ll end with this: I have a Galaxy Nexus and I was waiting to upgrade to the next Nexus device.  At this point, I’m not sure I want to stay with the Nexus line.  There are many benefits, but the drawbacks are getting dramatically worse with each new Nexus device.

UPDATE 7/26/2013: It appears at least the Wi-Fi bug is not fixed in the newly released 4.3.

UPDATE 7/28/2013: I’ve noticed this on my phone: search sometimes doesn’t search.  I get the feeling Google just doesn’t do much testing.

UPDATE 8/9/2013: The Bluetooth bug is fixed in 4.3.