Want to Take the Scenic Route? Google Maps Thinks You’re Racist 

THASSANEE KHAENGRIT / shutterstock.com
THASSANEE KHAENGRIT / shutterstock.com

Travelers who use Google Maps to plan a trip may have noticed no option for choosing a scenic route. Some users complain that the app deliberately selects routes through “rough” neighborhoods, even when a safer, more direct route is available. As it turns out, this is part of a plan to send tourists through low-income neighborhoods so struggling communities can take in some tourist dollars.  

If you don’t like it, you’re probably a racist. 

According to Google, the things that make a scenic route more desirable, such as tree-lined streets, clean sidewalks, and distinctive architecture, are the same things that make it racist. Low-income areas do not have the same features. 

Google’s secret algorithm was revealed through a social media post by Kaey Klimes, a former Senior UX researcher for the tech giant from 2017 to 2021. 

Klimes’ now-deleted post explained that the current Google Maps algorithm is objective. Adding options for “nice” or “scenic” routes would require including new factors in the algorithm. The problem is that programming these “scenic” factors would introduce bias. This bias would likely direct users through high-income areas with features like beautiful open spaces and upscale shops. 

As a result, Maps could unintentionally divert foot traffic and tax dollars away from low-income areas to wealthier neighborhoods. According to Klimes, even a seemingly insignificant shift in Google Maps from its predetermined route to a “scenic drive” option could create a “reinforcing feedback loop with spatial inequality.” 

According to the post, offering a scenic route introduces a bias to the system, which currently gives each street “an equal chance” to be used for foot traffic. This bias would lead to the app unintentionally diverting tourists from low-income neighborhoods and lead to them spending their money in more affluent communities. 

But the algorithm, as it currently stands, places innocent tourists in the wrong place at the wrong time as they navigate through gang-ruled, crime-riddled neighborhoods full of residents who don’t want them there. 

One horrifying incident involved a brutal assault on a man and his pregnant wife. After following Google Maps’ suggested route down a dangerous street, they became the victims of an angry mob of teenagers, turning their date night into a nightmare. 

“Nina” describes her terrifying ordeal as she and her husband navigated a street in Chicago. According to her, the couple was walking down the street when ten angry teenagers surrounded them. “You can’t just prance around in your little dress,” one of the teens told her, with the others telling her they “owned the street.” They then began their vicious physical assault on the helpless couple. The pregnant Nina was pepper sprayed, repeatedly kicked in her stomach, and had the hair ripped from her head. Her horrified husband was held back, unable to help her, before the crowd turned their attention to him. He was beaten and punched in the head. A woman then grabbed Nina again, knocking her down and dragging her by her hair. When Nina attempted to scream for help, the woman pepper-sprayed her directly in the eyes. Nina was then “stomped” by the teens.  

Hours after the terrifying ordeal, Nina lost her baby. 

Google responded to Klimes’ post by removing his account from X, but they had no choice but to respond to the allegations. As expected, the response was more of a condemnation of Klimes than an answer to his claims. Per a Google spokesperson, Klimes left in 2021 and had publicly stated he wasn’t involved in making decisions at the company. According to the statement, “Their posts don’t reflect the reality of product decisions for Google Maps, back then or now.” 

Google has recently introduced Immersive View, allowing users to explore other routes and destinations during trips. Additionally, Immersive View will enable users to find “scenic spots near me” across the globe. The choices are generated by AI technology, which allows the app to understand what a specific user is looking for, even if broad search terms are used. Google suggests this upgrade will be helpful for users who are “particular about the places” they want to go. According to Google, results will now include photos of the results along with reviews of the shops or locations it suggests. 

While surprise destinations and unique experiences make road trips fun and exciting, most users don’t think a detour through crime-riddled neighborhoods ruled by gangs is as much fun as it sounds. But if you don’t like the added adventure of exploring these areas, check yourself. You’re probably a racist.