Google Topographies

Jenna deBoisblanc
November 2020
Custom software (three.js, Mapbox, shaders, webgl)
Dimensions variable

Link to project.

This project is designed to turn your Google Maps location data into virtual terrains. In this data visualization, elevation corresponds to the frequency of visiting a particular place. So, for example, the highest peaks correspond to places you visit the most often (e.g. home, work, school…).

I created this visualization while reading J.B. Harley, a historian of cartography whose thorough consideration of maps as socially-constructed agents of power (beginning in the 15th century with European colonialism) aptly applies to contemporary digital cartography.

In short, we can no longer think of Google Maps as an objective representation of the Earth’s surface, but rather as a tool of surveillance capitalism where paid advertisements on the map ultimately influence consumer decisions and travel directions. In creating this virtual terrain, I hoped to give material form to these hidden landscapes of power.

Privacy Note

Keep in mind that this visualization presents data from a device that has enabled location tracking (which you may have already turned off). Here’s an article about protecting your data.

The app does not store any of your data. It attempts to use your browser’s location (assuming you’ve enabled this in system preferences) at the beginning to start the map in a convenient spot.