Google Maps Drops Calorie-Counting Feature After Twitter Backlash

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The tech company is facing complaints over a new function that appears when users hit the walking option for a route, which calculates what the calories equate to in mini cupcakes. And of all the unlikely things that feature could be, it's a cupcake ...

Google did not immediately respond to PCMag's request for comment, but told TechCrunch that it's removing the feature "based on strong user feedback".

The feature was designed around encouraging users to be more active by displaying how many calories could be burned by walking to a chosen destination. For example, a mini cupcake meant 110 calories.

"This walk burns around 313 Calories - that's nearly 3 mini cupcakes", said a message within the app's walking directions, CNN reported. The online backlash was mainly regarding the effects this feature could cast on users with eating disorders.

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While Google's introduction of the feature was a little tone-deaf, the kneejerk withdrawal strikes me as a bit of a shame overall: as an opt-in feature, I feel this would likely have been welcomed by plenty of people who know that the vehicle is tempting and want an incentive to be more active. However, it does not clarify the standard for an "average" person. Another fix for the issue is by making the feature better by adding personalised elements like age, height, weight, and gender. It's interesting that for the past week, this feature was in the testing phase.

Critics also noted that an excessive preoccupation with calorie tracking is a hallmark of anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders, so seeing calorie estimates every time they look up directions can have a very negative impact on sufferers.

Users who received this update before it was swiftly removed felt as though it was shaming people into walking more, while potentially triggering those with eating disorders.

Interestingly, prior to the outcry, many on digital health Twitter were applauding the move as one that could demonstrate some of the prevailing ideas in the space about behavior change - namely that subtle nudges from the tools consumers already use are an effective motivational strategy.

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