Barbara Krasnoff

Google Maps: The perfect alibi?

April 24, 2013 5:07 PM EDT

If you watch crime dramas on TV, you'll be familiar with one of the tools that the enterprising detectives usually use to track a suspect's past movements:  The phone's GPS unit. "We checked the records from her phone's GPS," a typical piece of dialogue will go, "and it shows she was actually at her boyfriend's apartment at the time, so she couldn't have killed her husband." (The fact that the woman may have simply left her phone there doesn't occur to them. But never mind.)

I was thinking of that when I recently checked the location data that my mobile device was reporting to Google. I had turned on my location history and was curious to see what it showed.

And I was surprised to see that, sometime during the last couple of weeks, I had taken a quick trip to San Diego.

Now, I do admit to a bit of forgetfulness occasionally. But you'd think I'd remember something as, well, memorable as a trip from New York to California.

Especially since it seemed to be an especially quick trip. I checked the time stamps, and according to Google, I was in Manhattan at 5:30 pm and in San Diego at 5:38 pm. Only a TARDIS could have made the trip that quickly, and I'm fairly sure I don't have one parked behind the house. (The trip back took a little longer: I was in San Diego at 6:10 pm and back in Manhattan at 6:26 pm.)

Half hour trip from NYC to San Diego

Actually, of course, the truth is that Google's mapping is not perfect -- glitches happen. When I went looking online, I didn't find any half-hour cross-country trips, but I did find some people who had also been misplaced, including one user who complained that his home seemed to be located halfway across the world -- and another who, like me, had been relocated to San Diego.

It would be interesting to find out what causes these problems. (I emailed a contact at Google, but haven't heard back yet.)

Meanwhile, I've got the perfect alibi (at least, perfect for a TV mystery series). I could have, say, swiped my neighbor's lawn mower, and if he wanted to know why he found one of my shoelaces entangled in the blades, I could point out that it couldn't be me -- I was in San Diego.