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Security & privacy

Google always tracks your location even when you tell it not to

Google can pull off some impressive tricks, such as correctly guessing what type of information you want in a search before you finish asking, showing you news you’re interested in, letting you know when there’s heavy traffic on the way to your usual Friday night hangout spot, and plenty more.

However, the trade-off is that Google has to know a lot about you.

It’s no secret that Google monitors and stores a lot of information about you, such as your location history. It does this for two reasons: service improvement and targeted advertising. In other words, you have to be comfortable with Google knowing where you are if you want it to help without you asking.

Google does provide tools and options to turn location tracking off, however, new findings indicate that Google still records your movements even when you tell it not to. Now, that’s creepy, right?

Read and see why this is happening and see the ways how to stop it from doing so.

Google stores your location even when you tell it not to

A new investigation from the Associated Press discovered that plenty of Google services on iPhones and Android gadgets still store your location data even if you’ve tweaked your privacy settings to prevent it from recording your location.

This means that even if you turn off Location History on your account, it was found that some Google apps still store time-stamped location data even without your permission.

According to the AP report, researchers at Princeton have confirmed these findings.

Privacy dangers

According to Princeton’s Jonathan Mayer, storing location data when a user opts out of it is wrong. These location markers shouldn’t exist if a user turns off location tracking in the first place.

“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 told AP. “That seems like a pretty straightforward position to have.”

This privacy issue affects all 2 billion Android users and millions of iOS users who use Google services on their gadgets.

Princeton’s researcher Gunes Acar demonstrated how these location markers can reveal tons of information about your movements even if you turn off “location tracking” on your Google account.

With his Android phone’s Location History set to off, his Google activity still mapped out two train trips and visits to specific places.

Turn off Web and Activity Tracking

However, Google said that people still have an option to turn pervasive location tracking and histories within its services off, after all.

“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 told 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.”

It’s not as straightforward as it should be though.

First, you need to be signed in to your Google Account then click on “Your personal info” in the “Personal info & Privacy” section.

Now, on the left-hand pane, click on “Manage your Google Activity” then select “Go To Activity Controls.”

Here you can turn off the different types of data that are being saved to your Google account.

It turns out, pausing “Location History” doesn’t completely turn off Google’s location markers. Although it stops Google from adding your movements to your “Timeline,” location data is still being saved on your “Web and App Activity.”

Click here to see what your Google accounts Timeline is all about.

To prevent location markers from being saved, you have to pause your “Web and App Activity” toggle too. When this feature is paused, activity from all of your Google services won’t be saved on your account.

It’s not exactly clear cut, is it?

Is the setting misleading?

Is Google’s Location History setting confusing on purpose? While Google provides a description of how it works, it only appears when you turn the feature off. The description might contain the disclaimer that “some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other Google services, like Search and Maps” but it is hard to miss.

Reenabling “Web & App Activity” tracking also reveals the same disclaimer that the feature, ” “saves the things you do on Google sites, apps, and services … and associated information, like location.”

It gets more confusing on phones since turning off Location History on your Google apps only state that location data won’t be added to your Location History map but it’s unclear whether your movements are still being saved to your Google account history.

Again, to turn location activity tracking off, you’ll have to dig in to your settings and turn them all off via your account’s Activity Controls.

But what do you think? Is Google overstepping its bounds with its location tracking? Shouldn’t “off” mean off all the time? Drop us a comment!

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