Google Maps may not offer scenic routes because it could be too 'biased'

Google Maps logo on smartphone with Google Maps logo in background
(Image credit: Getty Images)

UPDATE 6/18: a Google spokesperson said “This person left in 2021 and publicly stated they weren’t a decision maker – their posts don’t reflect the reality of product decisions for Google Maps, back then or now. In fact, we’ve launched many features to help people understand a route or find a scenic area – including Immersive View for routes which lets you explore places along the way, and the ability to search for “scenic spots near me” anywhere in the world. We’ll keep working on these types of features in the future.”

Original story follows: 

According to a recently deleted post on X, Google Maps doesn’t offer a scenic route option due the risk of income loss in poor areas. 

The thread in question comes from Kasey Klimes, who worked as a Senior UX Researcher for Google Maps between 2017 and 2021. He starts by stating that the current Google Maps algorithm is objective, and that any “shift towards “nice” or “scenic” routes is going to take some new subset of variables into account.”

The issue with this is that programming "scenic" variables would add an inherent bias into the system that would likely predominantly direct users through high-income areas due to the prevalence of those variables, for instance beautiful architecture or tree-lined streets. 

This bias would then lead to Maps “inadvertently diverting foot traffic from low-income streets takes [and] tax dollars from struggling communities and funnels it instead to richer communities.”

Klimes' thread (screengrabbed below) has now been deleted, and his X account is now locked. This is possibly due to intense attention from other users who disagree with his justifications, or perhaps Google intervened since it doesn't want its development secrets being given away by ex-staffers.

Details on the lack of a Google Maps scenic route

(Image credit: @kaseyklimes on X)

Google only recently added generative AI to Maps, with a purpose of learning user preferences and then helping to identify suitable spots, regardless of how complex the request is. This was improved again with a new feature that analyzes EV charging station reviews and uses the information to better direct users.

Google will need to add more new features for walkers soon however, as Apple is working to make its Maps app far more appealing to hiking fans. It was revealed that iOS 18 will let users create and save trail routes with turn-by-turn directions, and download them for offline viewing. It additionally supports popular trails at all 63 U.S. National Parks. 

If you happen to be a fan of walking then perhaps have a look at our list of the best smartwatches, a key tool for anyone who likes to wander. With the new features coming to Apple Watches in watchOS 11 there has never been a better time to pick one up.

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Staff Writer

Josh is a staff writer for Tom's Guide and is based in the UK. He has worked for several publications but now works primarily on mobile phones. Outside of phones, he has a passion for video games, novels, and Warhammer. 

  • RufusVS
    I recall years ago one of the mapping apps was going to show relative crime rates in different areas, and it was cancelled for pretty much the same reason. It is a tough call. New Yorkers know what neighborhoods could be dangerous for a jogger or cyclist, but tourists have no way to know. But it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy if it was allowed. No good solutions.
    Reply