Google, Cupcakes, and Terrible Ideas

facepalmSomeone at Google thought it would be a swell idea to launch a new feature into iPhone users’ Google Maps so that if someone asked for directions to a place that was “not far away” (by Google’s definition), they would get not just the directions they asked for, but also the number of calories they would burn (by Google’s estimation) if they walked instead.

Then, as the icing on the cake (sorry, couldn’t help myself), they decided to translate calories into… wait for it …mini-cupcakes.

There are many, many ways in which this is terrible. First of all, it’s ableist AF. Any time we suggest that “encouraging people to walk” is a good thing, while ignoring that there are plenty of people with disabilities (visible and invisible) and health issues that mean that walking may not be a good choice or may be impossible, we engage in ableism. Not just because we create a situation that explicitly leaves people out, but because we perpetuate a society that conflates performance of “health” as a measure of goodness or worthiness, but we’ll get back to that in a minute.

For those who have a predisposition to, are suffering with, or recovering from, eating disorders, this can be completely triggering. Not just calorie counting, which is bad enough, but specifically the idea of having to “earn” food through activity is a significant eating disorder red flag.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that this is total bullshit. Bodies are complicated; estimating the number of calories an individual uses to walk a mile is difficult at best. Trying to come up with a single figure that will work for everyone is impossible. Google claims “the average person burns 90 calories by walking one mile” with no information about where they got that figure. I assume that they just found a calorie chart and took the average since this calculation involves, at the very least, weight, and pace and, depending on which chart you look at, can differ by more than 90 calories based on these variables.

You would think Google would care that they are giving people completely erroneous data; they’re Google for god’s sake!

Finally, there’s the old “nobody asked you!” issue. People asked Google Maps for directions, and instead, they got information about calories and cupcakes. To make matters worse, there was no way to turn the “extra” info off and just get the direction they were looking for in the first place!

So, as is nearly always the case when we introduce diet concepts into the greater culture, we do harm with basically no benefit. Luckily, the pushback was swift and sharp:

Read the rest of this story here!

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8 thoughts on “Google, Cupcakes, and Terrible Ideas

  1. I don’t cuss very often, but the people who edit (if you want to call it that) both Google Maps and Apple Maps? They’re dumbshits.

    I have two brothers-in-law whose properties are adjacent. One is a residence; the other, a blue-collar business involving heavy equipment and a strong need not to have people wandering around near said equipment. Being brothers, and also friends, the two of them made a shortcut where their properties touch. Said shortcut is visible via satellite.

    So guess what both Siri and whichever talking silicon stupidbox that uses Google Maps as the default call that shortcut. If you guessed that they’re both directing drivers up one brother’s driveway, through their shortcut, and across the other brother’s business premises…yep, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

    It gets worse.

    My brother-in-law has complained, repeatedly, to uppity-ups at Google and also, I think, Apple. No response.

    It gets worse.

    When he stops drivers to tell them that their super duper expensive-o phone/car gadgets are wrong, they get mad at him. Some have issued threats.

    It gets worse.

    He asked the city government what his local rights were, since all these strangers are traipsing across his property. Here’s what it boils down to: If people drive across his land often enough for long enough, the government can claim it using eminent domain.

    But capitalism is your friend! Google and Apple are only here to help you and make your life better!

      1. It’s hard to believe, I know–but I had it straight from BIL. (Other BIL just parks heavy equipment across his driveway when he isn’t using it, so he doesn’t have that problem. It’s hard to argue with a bulldozer. Of course, he gets frustrated drivers coming through the shortcut and yelling at him to move the bulldozer if his brother doesn’t catch them first…)

        Back on topic: A “walk off the mini cupcakes” “helpful” app sounds like just what I’d expect from people who would do this to my BILs. They’re so wrapped up in their shiny little subculture that they have only the dimmest notion of their own clientele, and they’re so dang big that we’re stuck with them.

  2. Your last point is the most poignant, I think. This would be a perfectly acceptable “feature” if it were being provided as some kind of add-on for people who care about this sort of thing. As it is, they’re just shoving it up everyone’s ass “for our own good.” It’s patronizing and insulting – I will be using MapQuest exclusively until this shit stops.

    1. I have used the “feedback” link on the Google Maps website to send the following message. I urge others to likewise express their disgust for this “feature.”

      Until such time as you stop insulting your users by telling them (without being asked or offering any way to opt out) how many cupcakes they would “earn” by walking instead of driving, I will NOT be using your service. I use map apps to get DIRECTIONS, not wildly inaccurate fitness advice. This would be a fine service if you offered it to people who wanted to know this information and didn’t care enough about accuracy to consult an actual professional, but you think it’s appropriate to basically call EVERY ONE of your users a moron who doesn’t understand how walking works.

      Until your executives decide that you can provide me with the information I ask you for and keep your stupid “cupcake calculations” to yourself, I will be exclusively referring to MapQuest – or any one of your numerous competitors – for my navigational needs. When I want to know how many calories I’ll burn (and what I’ll be “allowed” to eat when I do) I’ll STILL ignore Google’s opinion in favor of health care and fitness professionals. Nobody has EVER asked you to provide them with travel distances in “cupcake units,” so how DARE you just up and volunteer the information? Seriously, drop me a line and tell me how you dare – I’d love to hear your puling retort about how “Google cares about the health and fitness of its users.” In fact, I’d be THRILLED to learn what other kinds of health advice your company is issuing without a medical license.

      Good day and good riddance,
      Jenna

      1. Lovely. It’s like they’ve got white collar-itis: they got educated in something that’s hard to do, therefore all other things are easy and they can do them.

  3. I’m no expert, but wouldn’t the amount of calories you burn depend on things like how much mass you’re moving, or grade of incline, or maybe how easy it is for you to move (Would someone with a bad leg burn more calories than someone who is not physically impaired?), and the like?

    Also, in my own experience, walking speed varies widely from person to person, although shorter people seem to walk more slowly than taller people, because it’s impossible to match the strides of taller people, so while they leisurely stroll (stride-wise), we are running to keep up, taking two steps for every one of theirs.

    For a car, you can estimate the speed based on the speed limit of the road, but the estimate of walking speed is kind of useless to me.

    Also, if you’re strolling and stopping to smell the roses on the way, I presume that you are not keeping up the heart rate required to burn the extra calories that a runner, jogger, or even brisk walker would do.

    In other words, there are oodles of reasons why their cupcake calculations are wrong.

    PLUS, are these cupcakes frosted? Whipped frosting or buttercream? Or just a simple icing glaze? Are there sprinkles involved? Google-users want to know!

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