As a young Millennial or old addition to Generation Z, it is hard to imagine navigating places without Google Maps. Yet, navigation systems, like many other technologies have a gendered aspect to them. If you use Google Maps for travelling by foot, you have two options for what routes to take: The fastest and the shortest route. However, you do not have an option that gives you the safest route.
People of (intersecting) marginalised identities, including genders, skin colour and sexual orientation often prefer taking the safest route, worried they might have an uncomfortable or even violent encounter on their way home. Women are often told to avoid open spaces, like parks, when going home alone at night. If you prefer taking a route that is populated or well lit, it is frustrating – not to mention scary – when Google Maps decides to take you through a dark alley or along the highway.
Have you ever thought of this? Perhaps not. And perhaps because this is not something you worry about. A lot of people do, however, and these people have luckily shared their frustration with Google. Recently their efforts have borne fruits. A new “lighting layer” feature is in development. This feature will show whether a street has good lighting, poor to no lighting or if there is no information available concerning lighting.
The feature is likely to debut in India before expanding to other parts of the world. Yet, as it is still in the development phase, there is no guarantee that it will ever be rolled out. While we impatiently wait, let’s also not forget that the voice navigation in Google Maps is set to a female voice by default. Want to know more about why that’s problematic? Check out our entry on virtual assistants.