Why Google Maps Is Going Incognito & What It Means For You


At its May 2019 I/O developer conference, Google announced that Maps is going incognito. Concerns over privacy and how user data is managed by digital organizations have led to this, but what does it mean for you and your business? Changes to your opening hours, a potential loss of revenue, and more are covered below.

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Why is Google Maps going incognito happening?

Privacy, to put it simply. Data security has never been a hotter topic and the temperature isn’t going down any time soon. The backlash from Facebook’s data farming has been severe and deep for the digital industry – users have real concerns that their privacy isn’t being respected and are demanding that companies are transparent, or cease to hold their data.

As the world’s largest public collector of data, Google has been placed under renewed scrutiny. Google has already added incognito modes to both Chrome and YouTube, and adding the same function to Maps is a logical way of addressing user concerns about privacy. So, how will this change make maps more private?

Incognito browsing stops Google from permanently holding user activity during a web session. What this means is that it cannot retain searches, cookies, or downloads. What this doesn’t stop is other, third-party sites retaining your data.

People have been able to browse incognito using Google Maps since the launch of the function on Chrome (by accessing Maps via Chrome) and before (by manually deleting their data). However, adding incognito allows them to sidestep these methods by having private sessions directly via the Google Maps app – basically, the update is a timesaver.

What does Google Maps going incognito mean for you?

If you’re a user, it’s simple to know what Google Maps going incognito means for you – it’s either a quicker way of having private browsing sessions, or a chance to have privacy when using the app. The result of this is that your location won’t be shared across Google’s channels and you’ll cut away locational advertising.

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If you’re a business owner, or work for a company that’s listed on Google, it’s not yet certain exactly what the change means for you. We can say for certain that less user data will be passed on from Google, but can’t yet be unanimous about what areas of your business will be impacted and how much they’ll be affected. However, there are some areas that we’re confidently predicting to see an impact and we cover these below.

Google Maps going incognito will affect your marketing strategy

Geolocational marketing works via Google Maps, taking user data and passing it on to businesses that can then target nearby users with promotions.

With users keeping hold of their data, your pool of customers to reach via geolocational marketing will shrink. This will mean a lot to local businesses, such as florists, restaurants, and bakeries, as they may not be able to catch as many tourists.

Could Google’s changes cause staffing inefficiencies for your business?

One of the ways Google uses the data it pools from people using Maps is that it decides what the popular times for a business’ opening hours. With Maps going incognito, it will lose access to this data from users who keep their sessions private.

The knock-on effect of Google being unable to establish the popular opening times for businesses is that it may mean you have less visibility over when your customers are likely to visit. This could mean that you are either over or understaffed. The result is that your business could either lose money by having too many staff in, or by not having enough to cope with customer demand – customers go to a different store where they can get served.

It may cause you to lose business

For your business, the most valuable benefit you get from Maps is that Google recommends local companies based on a user’s location. If a user goes incognito their location won’t be shared and they will not get these recommendations. The simple arithmetic of Maps being unable to recommend locations to its users is that your business may not get as many customers.

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Why keeping up with updates from Google is essential

Google constantly carries out updates to its services, with many changes happening seamlessly and without its users realizing they’ve happened. But every so often big alterations made to the services Google provides, ones that can alter the way companies do business and individuals go about their lives by impacting on their searches. It’s essential that you keep pace with these updates, as this is how they can affect you.

SEO changes cause companies to lose search rankings

Using SEO contravenes Google’s user policy because it’s a threat to the search engine’s goal of getting people to click through to its paid adverts. But SEO is also a vital part of the digital strategy of countless online businesses. The biggest update Google makes to its services is changing its search results ranking algorithm and failing to keep pace with this could be disastrous for you.

Google’s algorithm rules SEO and, as Search Marketing Consultant Marie Haynes explained on an SEO podcast: “If your site winds up on the wrong end of a Google Algorithm update, watch out. You could see your rankings, traffic and revenue plummet.” This isn’t scaremongering, it’s a real concern that affects the revenue of every online business – even global corporations.

To ensure that you minimize the damage that can be caused by these changes, keep up to date with Google’s search guidelines so that you can understand how alterations to its algorithm can affect your business.

Google has a history of privacy concerns

As Google’s success is dependent on trust – users need to trust that their data won’t be compromised – it takes a very serious view on any suggestion that it doesn’t look after sensitive information properly. To tackle this, it makes changes to its services to make people feel more comfortable when using them – hence the reason for Google Maps going incognito.

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However, despite working to keep users happy that their data is being managed responsibly, since it was founded in 1998, Google has been subject to regular privacy concerns from users and commentators. While there is too much detail to cover every privacy issue in-depth, we’ve covered some of the key areas underneath.

Gmail & privacy

  • 2004: Google receives a letter from 31 organizations that asks the company to halt the service until privacy issues were resolved.
  • 2013: Microsoft created a campaign to make people aware that Google scans emails of its users so that it can send them targeted ads.

Google Docs & data leaks

  • 2009: Google announces that Google Docs had allowed outside access to users data due to a bug.

Lifespan of cookies

  • 2007: Google advises that its cookies expire after two years, but that this lifespan is restarted every time someone uses a specific Google service.
  • 2011: Google says that the link between web access and cookies is anonymized after 18 months.

For some people, Google Maps going incognito will be nothing more than a timesaving device, but for others, it will be a new method of keeping their sessions private. Google is doing this to give greater transparency, but what this means for your business is that you could lose access to some valuable customer data.

At the moment a lot of the comment on how big an impact this will have on your business is speculation. What we can say, though, is that we’re confident it will have an impact and you’ll need to keep an eye on updates from Google to see precisely what this means for you.



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