In an attempt to upgrade the simple feature of figuring out how to get from point A to point B, Google decided to tell users of their Maps feature how many mini cupcakes they could burn if they chose to walk to their destination, rather than drive, bike, or Uber there.
Of course, we think this feature would be much improved if a Google employee waited at the finish line with a tray of miniature desserts as reward, but alas. Technology has not made it that far just yet.
Regardless, the choice spurned a reasonable outcry of revolt against the calorie-shaming messages the app seemed to promote. What if, say, the Google Maps user chose to drive their 5-mile distance instead? Does Google think he or she doesn’t deserve the ten mini cupcakes of fuel it’d take to walk there?
The choice was also quite callous on Google’s part. App users with histories of eating disorders, for example, have more than enough reason to be upset by the unwelcome comparison. Really any user with a history of feeling negatively about their body, attempting to lose weight by dieting, or experiencing weight stigma could be affected — which, according to some studies, constitutes at least 91 percent of women on any given day.
Consumers receive enough diet-friendly, calorie-focused messages already, and already are exposed to more than enough influences telling them they need to lose weight. The last place they wanted more of them was in their essential navigation tools.
Aside from the insensitivity of the choice, the monitor of calories burned — and the arbitrary comparison to mini cupcakes, of all things — isn’t even accurate. Calories in do not equal calories out. Metabolisms are fickle, fluctuating things, and they depend on a myriad of factors both in and outside of our control. Body size, activity level, history of dieting, genetic makeup, age, sex, and millions more variables go into that equation — none of which Google considered with their one-size-fits-all counter.
Plus, not all mini cupcakes are 110 calories, as the app seems to suggest. Just try searching “mini cupcake” on a calorie-counter like MyFitnessPal and you’ll see results varying by hundreds of calories each. And users of Google Maps who don’t choose to walk aren’t sitting around gorging on vats of miniature desserts. They could be driving to a fitness class, for all Google knows. And even if they weren’t, would it matter?
Though Google dropped the ball on anticipating the understandable mutiny against their new application update, at least they were quick to react — within hours, the company retracted their unwelcome feature and returned the Maps app to the low-stress function of simply displaying a person’s ETA and directions. Which is what a maps application should be. Save the dessert-shaming for your weight loss apps where they belong.