Users challenge distracting Google Maps pop-up ads that suggest “quick detours”

The good old days: When I was a young whipper-snapper driving off into unfamiliar territory, I had to buy a paper map. Yes, maps used to be printed on large sheets of folded paper that you could never refold. I would plan out my route in advance, and turn-by-turn directions were obtained by memorizing a list or by my navigator (aka wife, friend, brother) reading from my notes. Then, the internet ruined everything.

Android user Anthony Higman recently noticed something during a trip with Google Maps navigation running. He posted on X that as he was driving by a gas station, an ad for a convenience store called Royal Farms popped up on the screen, offering to add the location as a stop on the route. He had never seen such a popup before, and as a self-proclaimed advertising aficionado, he wondered “what kind of ad format” it was.

Another user responded to his post with a screenshot of a similar ad for the Mustang Ranch brothel in Nevada.

“Imagined headline: Multi-car pile up in Sparks, NV due to distracted drivers,” he quipped.

Higman agreed that the ad was indeed “super distracting.”

Both screenshots showed that the businesses displayed were “sponsored” advertisers with their review ratings shown. The Maps app described the locations as a “Quick detour.” Since Higman had never noticed the Maps app do that before he assumed that Google was testing a new ad placement idea, albeit an ill-conceived one.

Surprisingly, the popup distractions are not new. A Google “Ads Liaison” responded to his post, saying that the feature, referred to as “promoted pins,” has been around for a while. They show up as drivers draw near or pass businesses along the Maps route.

“To avoid driver distraction, these ads do not pop up, expand only if they’re tapped on, and disappear quickly after a short time,” the Ads rep said.

However, Higman pointed out that he did not interact with the screen and that the popup displayed for 45 seconds to a minute. The representative admitted that that was not normal behavior and would follow up with a private message for details she could pass on to the Ads team.

Another poster translated the Google speak for Higman:” ‘not expected behavior’ oops – we got caught a/b testing our abortion of an idea.”

Promoted pins might be a great idea on paper, and they undoubtedly have added to Google’s advertising coffers, but at what expense?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving is the number one cause of US traffic accidents. The American Automobile Association concurs, noting that distracted drivers cause 25 to 50 percent of automobile accidents.

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