Last week Google introduced a new app called Field Trip. In its latest foray into the travel sector, Field Trip is supposed to be “your guide to the cool, hidden, and unique things in the world around you.” It’s part discovery engine, part local tour guide with a dash of serendipity.
It’s a hyper-local endeavor focused on the road less traveled, as opposed to the popular cities and places that you might see in say Frommer’s Travel Guides, recently purchased by Google. According to the description in Google Play, Field Trip pulls from a variety of sources including Google’s own Zagat guides, Thrillist, Food Network, Sunset, Cool Hunting, WeHeart, Inhabitat, Atlas Obscura and Daily Secret. If you’re looking for local music, you’ll get suggestions from Songkick or Flavorpill.
It all sounds great until the Google part of Google kicks in.
One of the core concepts behind Field Trip is that it presents you with ideas of things to do or places to see based on where you are…even before you ask it to. The idea being that computing should be a part of the fabric of our lives and effortlessly supplies you with the information you need, when you need it. You see this concept playing out in Google’s Project Glass as well.
And it does so by tracking your every movement and behavior and using this accumulated information to not only provide better recommendations in the future, but to use that data to sell more advertising. This tracks well within the normal Google playbook of setting up the user as the “product” to sell to advertisers.
This quote from John Hanke, vice president of product at Google’s Niantic Labs who built the app, appearing in the NY Times Bits Blog is stunning to me: ““The idea behind the app was to build something that would help people connect with the real, physical world around them.”
Do they not recognize that if we have the phone in our pockets that we are IN the real, physical world around us? I get that we won’t always know everything that there is to do near us and that it is often helpful to access information sources to find them. But it does not require that one tracks my every move in order to provide that information. Yet that’s exactly what the app does, “..always running in the background”, according to Hanke.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a privacy curmudgeon. I use social and location services like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp, TripIt among others quite extensively. But they offer me finer options on who, what and how I share.
As this is a 1.0 release there are some elements that do not seem to be completely thought out. As an example, one reviewer noted that you can’t define what notifications you want to get. Specifically he was looking for historical guide information only. But he writes: “I kept getting restaurant recommendations, and I honestly didn’t want restaurants. I have enough apps for restaurants. I wish I could specify only historical info about locations.”
Yet there is more. Performance and battery challenges may be enough to keep you from installing the app in the first place.
Before you download the app in the Google Play Store (it’s available on Android only at this point), permissions are listed, but a few are hidden unless you click on the “See all” button. Among the items hidden are:
- Default/Modify battery statistics; and
- System Tools/Automatically start at boot, send sticky broadcast
There are negative consequences in the warnings for both of them. Modify battery statistics is exactly what it says it is, but the popup notes that this ability is “Not for use by normal applications.” Hmmmm. But what’s worse is the Systems tools warnings. Those indicate that the app will both make the phone take longer to boot (my HTC Thunderbolt already takes more than 2x long to boot as my wife’s iPhone4) and slow down the phone by always running in the background, and perhaps make the phone slow and unstable by causing it to use too much memory.
So as a practical matter the app not only tracks my every move, but it will crush my (already challenged) battery life and performance, while it’s doing that. Great.
These reviews from the Field Trip Play Store site illustrate my point:
This app runs in a 2 hidden background processes of about 38meg each, that won’t show in Running Apps. These processes are un-killable. You won’t know its there unless you use something the Android System Info from the market. By installing this, you have to understand that you’ve given permission to track your ever move day and night. Yet that is merely glossed over in the permissions. Uninstalling is your only recourse. You can;t just turn it on when you enter an interesting area. Its ALWAYS on and tracking you.
Love the idea but had to uninstall. Every time a notification comes up it freezes and crashes my phone causing it to reboot. Seeing the same in other reviews from galaxy s2 users.
Thanks, but I’ll pass for now.
What’s your POV?
Have you installed Field Trip? What are your impressions so far?