The night Google Maps saved our bacon

When I stepped off the tube on the evening of Monday 8 August, my phone rang.

"All the shops are shut." It was one of my housemates. "There are police outside the shopping centre and I keep hearing sirens."

A couple of hours later we were transfixed by BBC News 24, watching a furniture store I recognised from long waits at the nearby bus stop burn to the ground. When reports started coming in of rioting in Clapham Junction, we really started worrying. Another housemate of ours was working late in Clapham that night, and was meant to be coming home via the Junction.

She called not long afterwards to say that she and her colleagues were barricaded in the Latchmere pub along with the staff and the Monday night regulars. They'd gone to Clapham Junction to find it closed, returned to the pub, and were now watching shops get smashed and torched on the news, all along the route they'd just walked.

We launched a rescue mission: my housemate driving, me navigating with the Google Maps app on my phone, and our stranded friend phoning us whenever she saw anything on the news that might affect our route.

"Don't go anywhere near Clapham Junction," she said. And that's when I started to suspect that Google Maps was routing us around trouble spots. Because the most direct route to the Latchmere passed straight through Clapham Junction, but the route my phone was showing me gave the station an unusually wide berth.

I confirmed it on the way home, after we'd successfully extracted our friend from the pub. We'd passed the shopping centre on the way out, but Maps guided us around it on the way home. When we arrived home safe and turned on the news, we found that the shopping centre was overrun with looters and bits of it were ablaze.

I still don't know whether this is a feature of Google Maps that's always on (it could be part of the same system that helps users avoid traffic jams), or whether it's something they implemented as an emergency measure. Either way, I felt like the service went above and beyond the call of duty, and that there must be people at the company who genuinely care about their end-users. If I wasn't brand-loyal to Google before…!

When was the last time a brand or service went above and beyond for you?

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