Google may track your location even if you disable Location tracking


Princeton researchers found that many apps record your location - even if you've disabled "Location History" on your handset. Prompted by a blog post written by a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley, the investigation focuses on a feature called Location History, which if turned on, allows Google to generate a mapped visualization of exactly where you've been throughout the day.

Princeton postdoctoral researcher Gunes Acar carried an Android phone while traveling through NY and New Jersey with location services turned off, only to see that Google was tracking his location the entire time.

You may think you've turned Google's location tracking history off, but according to a new Associated Press report released today, you might be wrong.

Google's official message is to promote user autonomy when it comes to deciding what information to share: "You can turn off Location History at any time".

You may not be able to fully prevent Google from knowing your location if you use its services, but there is an added step you can take for privacy.

The investigation, performed by the Associated Press alongside Princeton University researchers, found that users are being misled by Google's claim that for those who turn off Location History "the places you go are no longer stored". But that's not the case.

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Toggling the button to the right of "Web & App Activity" to off will pause the location services Google receives from its other apps and services like Google Maps and Google Search.

It boiled down to a few basic bullet points: "Google has new tools that let you easily turn off everything it logs about you".

Don't believe it? Check your My Activity page on Google, then your Location History. This information is stored under "My Activity". If you want to stop the tracking altogether, you need to find the setting called "Web & App Activity" and turn that off, too. Finally, you'll also want to make sure you disable location services on your smartphone for any apps (Google or otherwise) that you don't want to access your location.

Critics say Google's insistence on tracking its users' locations stems from its drive to boost advertising revenue. "Some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other Google services, like Search and Maps".

A researcher at UC Berkeley noticed something unusual when she had Location History disabled.

"I am not opposed to background location tracking in principle", she said. That last phrase appears to be referring to Web & App history, though Google wasn't clear on that. "It just really bothers me that it is not explicitly stated". Heck, it's how Google is able to serve up weather reports based on where you are. Ad buyers can target ads to specific locations - say, a mile radius around a particular landmark - and typically have to pay more to reach this narrower audience.