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Deep inside Ingress, the Google-made game that's paving the way for Glass

Brad Chacos | June 6, 2013
Beneath this world, full of mundane work and chores and ho-hum everyday things, lies another layer of existence chock-full of wonderful, borderline mystical excitement. This almost alternative reality isn't secret, per se--it's just that most people don't know how to really see it.

Some may find the inclusion of in-game advertising distasteful, but as an avid user of both apps, I can say that none of the promotional material is obnoxious; in fact, thus far it all truly adds to the experience.

That's not to say Niantic's efforts are free from future pitfalls, however.

The privacy question
Maybe it's because of the uproar over Google's unified privacy policy or Microsoft's truthiness-filled Scroogled campaign, but it's almost a prerequisite (alas) to mention privacy whenever you mention Google these days.

To be fair, the experimental, self-proclaimed "ubiquitous" nature of Niantic's apps would theoretically be ideal suppliers for Google's vast data silos. The blend of GPS data and your physical reaction to Field Trip notifications could be a treasure trove for decoding behavioral trends, while Ingress's very design lends itself well to enhancing an area of Google Maps that could benefit from some extra attention.

None of that is happening, though. Or at least not yet.

"We're trying to map (Ingress) energy to places where people walk, and walking paths, and so on," Hanke says. "Could it help Google Maps? Probably yes. We're not currently doing that. But it could... If activities in the game can ultimately have the effect of helping Google's map data, I would say that's great, but it definitely wasn't the driving force behind the creation of the game."

In fact, Niantic's apps are so self-contained that they don't even directly share data with each other. When I questioned Hanke about the way Ingress Portal information can appear in Field Trip if you use both apps, he said that Ingress doesn't receive any special treatment despite the fact that both apps were made in-house.

"Basically, Ingress is just another publisher for Field Trip," he says. "We treat Ingress the same way we treat Atlas Obscura, or Arcadia, or any of the other publishers in Field Trip."

That will likely change in time. As they become established, and especially if they help pioneer a path in wearable computing like Google Glass, Ingress and Field Trip will no doubt start sharing more information back and forth with other Google services.

But is that a bad thing? It's all the same company, after all, and the type of ubiquitous computing that promises to make our life easier and just plain more futuristic wouldn't be possible with so-called Big Data. Without Google Maps, there would be no Niantic, and without the vilified, unified privacy policy that allows for cross-pollination between Google's various services, there would be no Google Now.


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