Google Tracks Your Location Data…. Even When You Tell Them Not To

From the “this is a wee bit creepy department” comes this AP story that says that many of Google’s apps and services are tracking you even when you say not to. And this is true on both iOS and Android:

For the most part, Google is upfront about asking permission to use your location information. An app like Google Maps will remind you to allow access to location if you use it for navigating. If you agree to let it record your location over time, Google Maps will display that history for you in a “timeline” that maps out your daily movements.

Storing your minute-by-minute travels carries privacy risks and has been used by police to determine the location of suspects — such as a warrant that police in Raleigh, North Carolina, served on Google last year to find devices near a murder scene. So the company will let you “pause” a setting called Location History.

Google says that will prevent the company from remembering where you’ve been. Google’s support page on the subjectstates: “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

That isn’t true. Even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking.

For example, Google stores a snapshot of where you are when you merely open its Maps app. Automatic daily weather updates on Android phones pinpoint roughly where you are. And 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.

Now Google says it’s being clear on this front and there’s a way to stop this behaviour:

“There are a number of different ways that Google may use location to improve people’s experience, including: Location History, Web and App Activity, and through device-level Location Services,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement to the AP. “We provide clear descriptions of these tools, and robust controls so people can turn them on or off, and delete their histories at any time.”

To stop Google from saving these location markers, the company says, users can turn off another setting, one that does not specifically reference location information. Called “Web and App Activity” and enabled by default, that setting stores a variety of information from Google apps and websites to your Google account.

When paused, it will prevent activity on any device from being saved to your account. But leaving “Web & App Activity” on and turning “Location History” off only prevents Google from adding your movements to the “timeline,” its visualization of your daily travels. It does not stop Google’s collection of other location markers.

You can delete these location markers by hand, but it’s a painstaking process since you have to select them individually, unless you want to delete all of your stored activity.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the above is by design. As in to stop you from doing this so Google can make a few bucks from you.

Now this behaviour from Google is not only wrong, but in Europe because of GDPR, it’s illegal. Thus you can be sure that the Europeans are looking at this pretty closely and they are likely to slap Google even more than they have been.  What’s become very clear to me this year is that the big players like Google, Facebook, and Twitter are not going to voluntarily allow people to retain their privacy. And this story is an example of a large company looking like it is intentionally misleading and gathering data despite a user explicitly telling them not to. Thus the law must change. There needs to be a consequence for doing this sort of thing. Otherwise companies will keep trying to push the envelope. And Google really needs to be made an example of how not to behave.

3 Responses to “Google Tracks Your Location Data…. Even When You Tell Them Not To”

  1. […] might recall that AP blew the lid off the fact that even if you disable location tracking in Google apps, you’re still being […]

  2. […] week, The Associated Press found that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if […]

  3. […] tracking your location when you tell Google not to isn’t enough of a problem for the company who claims not to “do no evil”, it now […]

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