Google Still Tracks You Through the Web if You Turn off Location History
You may have assumed that turning off Google’s Location History option meant that Google is no longer tracking your movements. But the reality is that Google can continue to collect location data and even track you on a minute-by-minute basis, remembering your home address, and other places you’ve visited throughout the day, the Associated Press reports.
AP found that Google continues to track you through services like Google Maps, weather updates, and browser searches — any app activity can be used to track you. By turning off Location History, you’re only stopping Google from adding your movements to its Timeline feature, which visually logs where you’ve been.
But there is a way to get Google to actually stop tracking you: by digging through settings to turn off “Web and App Activity.”
If you toggle off “Web and App Activity,” which is enabled by default, Google will no longer be able to store a snapshot of where you’ve been from Maps data and browser searches that pinpoint your exact GPS coordinates.
As long as the Web and App Activity setting is enabled, Google will store your time-stamped location data. You can manually delete this data by heading into myactivity.google.com and clicking on specific geo-stamped entries. You can also delete batches of entries sorted by date or web service.
Google’s stance is that Location History’s purpose and functionality is clearly spelled out to users. A Google spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge, “Location History is a Google product that is entirely opt in, and users have the controls to edit, delete, or turn it off at any time. As the story notes, we make sure Location History users know that when they disable the product, we continue to use location to improve the Google experience when they do things like perform a Google search or use Google for driving directions.”
Still, it’s likely not clear to most users how these options work, or that something called “Web and App Activity” would control Google’s collection of location data. In the past, tech companies have gotten in trouble with federal authorities for confusing privacy practices. The FTC has investigated and fined several other tech giants, like Facebook, Uber, and Vizio, for misleading data practices in the past.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of Google tracking your location regardless of whether you have location services turned on. Last November, Quartz reported that Android phones still collect your location data from nearby cell towers and send it to Google, even if you toggle off location services and take out your SIM card. Google later said it would remove the data-collecting feature by December of last year. This time, it’s a little different because instead of it being cell towers that are the culprit, it’s web services. But if anyone pays close enough attention to the fine print of permissions agreements, they can catch what tech companies are doing.