On Monday, the reporter Taylor Lorenz noticed that Google Maps had a new feature: Walking distances were delivered in terms of calories.
Instead of simply telling her that a walk would take 13 minutes, the app also converted that to an amount of energy, 59 calories. Then a click on that calorie count gave a further conversion, from calories to food.
Specifically, mini cupcakes with pink frosting.
This was not well received.
Responses varied narrowly. An ostensible measure to promote health was interpreted as a tech corporation policing women’s bodies.
The writer Rachel Joy Larris noted: “‘Cupcake?’ Let’s talk about all the signifiers that contains about assumptions of gender, culture, and food.”
The writer Dana Cass said, referring to the Harvey Weinstein-induced Me Too movement: “Lol every woman I know has been sexually assaulted and Google Maps is telling me how many calories I’ll burn on my walk to work.”
The app offered no option to convert calorie counts into Budweiser or raw venison.
Within hours, BuzzFeed News reported that Google was simply testing the change, and that it “is removing this feature due to strong user feedback.”
Despite a boom in fitness apps and $1,200 watches that track physical activity, many people do not want to be reminded of calories unless requested. While this sort of nudge may benefit some people, among others the concern is that overwhelming focus on intake and output can drive bulimia or anorexia. In either case, unsolicited calorie counts and cupcake equivalents have an air of body policing and guilt inducement that do not pair well with a culture that assiduously regulates women’s appearances. As writer Casey Johnston offered, “Any woman could have told you this is a supremely bad thing a) to do b) to not be able to turn off.”