Google Maps’ COVID-19 layer as an interface for pandemic life

Alex Gekker in Mobile Media & Communication

The paper explores Google Maps’ COVID-19 layer, a special feature launched by the cartographic platform in September 2020, and shut down two years later. Through the reading of promotional corporate blogposts and interfacial analysis of the layer, it critiques the layers’ mediation of the pandemic, caught between public health needs and Google’s overarching ethos. The analysis underscores three central claims: that interfacial choices endemic to the layer impose certainty and reduce necessary user hesitancy; promote data commodification regardless of its pandemic need; and stake unnecessary exceptionalism to the pandemic-spcecific information rather than integrating it into the maps’ existing hybridity. The paper ends with design recommendation for a better COVID layer, centered around bottom-up community practices, higher degree of personalisation, and increased friction.

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