Published: Tue, August 14, 2018
Electronics | By Shannon Stone

Google tracks users even with location history turned off

Google tracks users even with location history turned off

An Associated Press investigation shows that using Google services on Android devices and iPhones allows the search giant to record your whereabouts as you go about your day. The AP is confused, like so many of us, about the painful amount of freedom and anonymity we gave up long, long ago, that we should rightfully get back if only our governments would do anything about it, but here we go again.

You can turn off location history any time, but some Google apps still store your time-stamped location data, the AP reported.

Google previous year faced scrutiny over a similar issue when reports emerged that the tech giant had been collecting Android users' location data using the addresses of nearby cellphone towers. I, for example, frequent Google Maps, and had to sanction its usage of my location for navigation purposes. 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.

In order to fully turn off location tracking, users must adjust settings in "web and app activity", not only "location services", and even then it is hard to prevent the phone from recording users' whereabouts, according to the report. The average iPhone user would be forgiven for thinking that this message meant that they had opted out of being tracked, when in fact, they are only preventing location info from being stored in a specific place that is accessible to them.

Google does offer a less misleading description of how its location storing works but only in a popup window if you select to "pause" "Location History" on your Google account web page, where it states that some location data may still be saved as part of your activity on other Google apps. Leaving Web and App Activity on just prevents Google from adding location to your timeline, but it still stores it from other apps. After being contacted by the AP, Google says that in order to turn off these location markers, users must turn off another setting that does not reference location information.

The issue was first brought to attention by K. Shankari, a graduate researcher at UC Berkeley.

"They build advertising information out of data", said Peter Lenz, the senior geospatial analyst at Dstillery, a rival advertising technology company.

In January 2018 it became known that the Location Service was saving a lot of data not related to the location such as the type of movement, Mac addresses, or battery charge levels.

Now, more than ever, we need to be wary about what data of ours is shared, and when, and to whom. You're good to go.

On the Data & personalization tab, scroll down to activity controls. Location data is not stored under Location History, it is instead stored under My Activity.

Since 2014, Google has let advertisers track the effectiveness of online ads at driving foot traffic, a feature that Google has said relies on user location histories. This information is stored under "My Activity". But I know some of you are, so hopefully this will help.

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