BuzzFeed News' Katie Notopoulos documented a new, short-lived Google Maps feature that would suggest walking to a given close-by destination while telling you how many calories the average human would burn doing so.
Notopoulos brings up the fact that while such a feature could be seen as something that would encourage people to make healthier decisions, it also has the potential to come off as "shaming" others into such behaviors. She cited the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, writing that "[as] many as 30 million people in the US are estimated to have an eating disorder." TechCrunch also wrote that excessive calorie counting "is a hallmark of anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders." Because of this, many feel that Google's update was inconsiderate of those who deal with eating disorders and the emotional fallout that can be revived by ostensibly well-meaning features such as these.
The Verge also explained that on top of possibly triggering people with eating disorders, the estimated calorie burn as presented in Google Maps could be incorrect. Such a calculation can vary wildly from person to person, as burn rates are based on a variety of factors including gender, age, current weight, body composition, and more.
Many of the criticisms on Twitter followed along the same lines. Taylor Lorenz, politics writer for The Hill and freelance tech reporter over at Mic discovered that there was no way to opt out of or turn off the feature -- a troubling issue, as people who could potentially suffer from an eating disorder relapse would essentially be barred from using the app. She also wrote: "Do they realize how extremely triggering something like this is for ppl who have had eating disorders? Not to mention just generally shamey." Someone else wrote, "Anyone else feel like the google maps mini cupcake feature reinforces the idea that all exercise must be atonement for the sin of eating?"
Google already announced that they would be pulling back the feature in a statement sent to BuzzFeed News, who explain, "it is removing this feature due to strong user feedback. It was a test feature for iPhone users only, and will be removed later tonight from the app."
Flawed feature pushes carried out in the name of "the greater good" aren't rare for Google, nor the tech industry in general. This past April, Google famously botched an April Fools joke feature for Gmail. They placed a microphone button perilously close to the regular "Send" button in Gmail, which automatically added a GIF of a Minion to the sender's message before sending it off. Then, without warning, further responses to that e-mail thread were archived without notice. That nasty issue purportedly resulted in one writer losing their job, as they never had a chance to reply to incoming e-mails from their editor. Google later apologized for implementing that "joke feature."
Facebook, too, has had its own, issues. They made headlines when they implemented their "Real Names Policy," which forced users on the social network to use their legal names or risk being banned. The backlash from the LGBTQ community was swift, much of it centered on the fact that such a policy placed transgender individuals at risk. Legally changing one's name is a bureaucratic labyrinth in many parts of the U.S., and outing a trans person by forcing them to use their birth name is dangerous. The alternative leaving Facebook could also potentially cut that person off from resources, friends, and any supportive family they have, which is another risky prospect in a population that disproportionately faces violence, self-harm, and suicide risks as a result of rejection from peers. Facebook has lightened up on the policy since then, and allows for "special circumstances," but the implementation of that policy still stands as a prime example of the tech industry's so-called "well-meaning" policies backfiring because of a lack of foresight, consideration, and consultation with affected populations.
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