Unlocking Your Google, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and iPhone Location History

I’m a huge social sharing fan, many of my non Geogeeky friends think I share way too much but that’s OK. I’m pretty careful about what I share, when I share it and where I share it. I also don’t share anything that I wouldn’t want anyone at all to see. But how much am I really sharing? In particular, what kind of location data am I putting out there? And even better, how can I view my location history and historical data?

location history

I really don’t mind sharing, however, it would be nice to get back as well. In particular, I’d really like to have access to all of my data that I put out there via numerous social sharing services. The problem though is that they really don’t make it easy. So how does one locate all that data shared on social media, in particular, data that is tied to a specific location and “location aware”. I’m concentrating on location tagged data here because I really do think it likely is the most valuable to us, particularly if we have plans to mash it up and generate some kind of “value added” product from a data archive.

So, where can all these data be found? The following are some of the resources provided by social sharing services where you can access historical data, in particular, location aware or geotagged data.

Facebook Location history

Facebook users can easily access their entire location history. Essentially, this is all the places where you use the  facebook “checkin” feature. To view these data jump to your profile, hover the mouse over “More” and click  “Check-ins”. You can then view places, cities and recent checkins. The results are displayed on a map where you can then jump directly to the data you shared about the location. Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be a way to access the raw data and download it for further consumption.  See the facebook help HERE

Foursquare History

The foursquare check-in service (and Swarm App)makes available data feeds which can be handy for mashing up or sharing. Foursquare also notes that The iCal (ICS) and Google Calendar formats are especially nice for importing and displaying your entire Foursquare check-in history in your Calendar on your computer.  Feeds are made available in RSS, KML, ICS, and GCAL formats. To access from a web browser simply login to your account and jump to https://foursquare.com/feeds/

Foursquare History

Flickr Photo history

Sharing photos via Flickr is an awesome way to archive and share photos, I’ve been using the service almost since Day 1. The now free service provides a great way to easily upload photos over mobile while it is also to have a backup of your photos hosted in the cloud. Flickr makes it a little tricky to locate your feed, however, it really is there! Go to your Photostream, then click “More” (far right), then click “Edit” first option. Scroll to the bottom of the page and you should see links to your data feeds displayed, along with the familiar orange RSS icon. Of particular interest, the feeds are available as GeoRSS (geofeed) and KML. These feeds will enable you to visualize your geotagged photos within any map service that supports these data formats.

Google Location history

If you use google services then you likely have a location history stored by Google – don’t worry though, only you can see it!  By accessing your history you can view all the places you’ve been (while location sharing was enabled on your device). You may also be able to view routes you’ve traveled and much more. If you use an Android device you may have automatically received messages from Google on a daily basis telling you about a commute time and delivered to you at a very timely moment (like before leaving for work in the morning). This is enabled by your location history and Google detecting daily patterns or your movements. Google does allow you to view your history, delete it, or turn it on or off. Note, if you don’t mind Google knowing more about you and you want even more useful data served to you about specific locations then use the Google G+ Checkin feature via mobile for your favorite places! Access your location history by logging in and jumping to https://maps.google.com/locationhistory/

Google location history data
Google location history data

Twitter Location History

Twitter also enables users to attach location to Tweets – this is ideally suitable for those tweeting via mobile. It may be a little tricky for some. To enable this you will need to have location or GPS services enabled on your smartphone. Then you will need to alter your Twitter security settings to include location data (you can turn it on or off any time you like and you can also remove your location data later if needed). To remove your location data from displaying in your previous Tweets, including Tweets posted from mobile devices, you can either:

  1. Delete a particular Tweet that has the location data attached; or
  2. Remove location data from displaying in all of your Tweets. To do this:
    1. Log in to your account on twitter.com.
    2. Go to your Security and privacy settings.
    3. Under Privacy, look for Tweet location.
    4. Click Delete all location information. Please note: this can take up to 30 minutes to complete

What I do like about sharing location via Twitter is that the setting can be set to be generalized if you desire. For example, rather than sharing your precise position or address, you can simply add the name of the town or city. Sadly, I have yet to locate how to download or retrieve a complete archive of my location history from Twitter – any ideas?? But, you can download your entire twitter data history from the Analytics service. To use this simply login to Twitter from a PC, then visit https://analytics.twitter.com. On the far right you’ll see an option for “Export Data” – See more in this Twitter help document

iPhone Location history

To be clear, I am no longer an iPhone user (I do have an iPad though). For those of you who opt in to location sharing on your iOS device there are benefits suck as an extensive location history and a service to track your lost device. If you have location services enabled on your iPhone, you can see a map of all the places where you’re iPhone has tracked your location. In addition to viewing a map, you can also see a list of all the places you’ve been. There’s some pretty detailed instructions on how to access and manage these setting in this article.

iPhone location history can help locate a lost device
iPhone location history can help locate a lost device

Mashing it all up – Finding Location Tagged Data on Social Media

Finally, perhaps you’re curious as to what data has been shared at a specific location, at a specific time over social media. Have you accidentally shared data from your home and geotagged it without realizing – I’ve done this before! There’s a fabulous online tool that can help you locate location aware data that has been shared – enter Echosec. To use Echosec simply zoom into a desired location or type in a place/city name. then you can define an area of interest (like a city block or event venue) and then specify a time range. Try it for yourself at htp://echosec.net

So, why am I discussing the importance of historical data? There’s no question that at some point you will likely be concerned with your history, in particular your location data history. Having access to these data along with real-time feeds of these data can be very useful. Services like ArcGIS Online, in particular the Story Map templates, MapBox (See Create and Share Awesome Maps Quickly with Mapbox) and other mapping software can read location data feeds (often as Geo RSS or XML or some other machine readable format). Esri has shared an interesting blog that guides you through creating a social media map, you may wish to try this one out. Having access to these data will enable you to create some interesting maps. A great way to test this would be at your next local hackathon or mapathon! For example, see How to create a heatmap of your Foursquare Check-ins using Google fusion Tables

I’m a big fan of sharing, and in particular, sharing location aware data. Obviously you need to be careful of what you are sharing and where and when you share it. For those of you who share loads of data, particularly via social media channels, I encourage you to be aware of where and how to access your location data and perhaps you can use these data to mashup with other services and create something that’s cool and useful. Are you a user of our Admin Tools for ArcGIS Online? If so, a great place to share your location is on our crowd-sourced Story Map. Please go ahead and add yourself! 

GEOspatial Evangelist & CMO

Geographer, GIS professional, writer, and fan of all things mobile.