GOOGLE tracks your every move 24 hours a day even when you specifically tell it not to – but there's a way to change that.
Google services on iPhones and Android devices store your location data even if you've switched off your location history on your Google account.
In fact, opening Google maps or using the search engine on any platform logs your location down to a square foot with a timestamp, a 2018 investigation carried out by the Associated Press found.
Turning off your location history only removes where you've been from the Google Maps timeline feature, which notes your location with specific data at certain times.
But adding to the confusion, Google’s support page on the subject states: “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, however.
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,” pinpoint your precise latitude and longitude and save it to your Google account.
The privacy issue affects some two billion users of devices that run Google’s Android operating software and hundreds of millions of worldwide iPhone users who rely on Google for maps or search.
Storing location data in violation of a user’s preferences is wrong, said Jonathan Mayer, a Princeton computer scientist.
“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 the AP. “That seems like a pretty straightforward position to have.”
Google, meanwhile, insists it's clear on the matter.
“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.”
It's disingenuous…To me it's something people should know."
To stop Google from tracking your every move, you can turn off another setting that does not specifically reference location information called "Web and App Activity."
This setting is enabled by default and stores a variety of information from Google apps and websites to your 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 lengthy process since you have to select them individually unless you want to delete all of your stored activity.
You can see the stored location markers on a page in your Google account at myactivity.google.com, although they’re typically scattered under several different headers, many of which are unrelated to location.
Sean O’Brien, a Yale Privacy Lab researcher with whom the AP shared its findings, said it is “disingenuous” for Google to continuously record these locations even when users disable Location History.
“To me, it’s something people should know,” he said.
How to switch off Google's location tracking
There are seven simple steps to follow to stop Google from tracking your every move:
- Type in Google.com on your desktop or any mobile device or tablet.
- Log in to your Google account by clicking the "Log In" icon at the top right-hand corner.
- Select the "Manage your Google Account" option.
- Under "Privacy & Personalization", select the "Manage your data & personalization" option.
- Scroll down to "Activity Controls", and select "Manage your Activity Controls."
- Under that tab, an option for "Web & App Activity" will be displayed. There you can slide the toggle switch to "Off."
- Google will ask you if you understand what switching off this setting will do, which you'll have to acknowledge, before finally switching it off.
What will switching off the setting do?
While disabling “Web & App Activity” will stop Google from storing location markers, it also prevents Google from storing information generated by searches and other activities.
It can also limit the effectiveness of Google Assistant, the company’s digital concierge.
This means you'll see less relevant ads, less helpful search recommendations, and an overall less-tailored experience using the search engine and its subsequent apps.
However, you won't lose any of your previously saved data. Switching off the feature will only prevent Google from storing future information.
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