Published: Mon, August 13, 2018
Tech | By

Google tracks your location even if you turn off Location History

Google tracks your location even if you turn off Location History

Google says that it will prevent the company from remembering where you've been.

This dubious privacy infringement affects some two billion Android users worldwide, in addition to hundreds of millions of iOS users who rely on Google Maps or its search engine.

"If you're going to allow users to turn off something called 'Location History, ' then all the places where you maintain location history should be turned off", Mayer said.

Such data can be very private indeed - with location history normally stored as a "timeline" showing where a user goes, minute by minute.

Interestingly, Google isn't skirting its tracking. And if you think you're too canny to have been affected, you're probably wrong; Google creates a snapshot of your location when you so much as open Maps.

Some searches that have nothing to do with location, like 'chocolate chip cookies, ' or 'kids science kits, ' pinpoint your precise latitude and longitude - accurate to the square foot - and save it to your Google account. Instead, it just tells you why that's a bad idea: "Pausing additional Web & App Activity may limit or disable more personalized experiences across Google services". You can not turn off Google Play services, which supplies your location to other apps if you leave that service on.

Of course by "may be saved" Google means "will be saved" and it forgets to tell you that "Web and App Activity" is where you need to go to stop Search and Maps from storing your location data. Even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking. It also becomes onerous when Google uses the location history you don't want to share to identify your location and deliver better advertising opportunities for companies that want to target people around a particular area.

At least it isn't an endless game of whack-a-mole, where you turn one setting off but only later discover that yet another one is actually still doing the thing you were trying to stop.

The AP learned of the issue from K. Shankari, a graduate researcher at UC Berkeley who studies the commuting patterns of volunteers in order to help urban planners. I, for example, frequent Google Maps, and had to sanction its usage of my location for navigation purposes.

If you've used a smartphone for any length of time, you're probably aware that there are options to turn off location tracking. A spokesperson for the company said that it provides "clear descriptions" of all the Google tools that people use which may record users' locations. It is no wonder that they bury how to opt out of these services deep within their privacy agreements, and obscurely related popups on the phone and account websites.

According to the AP, that text is technically true but somewhat misleading.

While disabling "Web & App Activity" will stop Google from storing location markers, it also prevents Google from storing information generated by searches and other activity.

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