Google will track you even when you’ve told it not to

Ruben Fields
August 14, 2018

Google's claim that it allows users to completely turn off all location tracking is completely false, according to research conducted by the Associated Press.

Google reportedly continues to store users' location data even on phones that have privacy settings set to prevent that kind of tracking. It also becomes onerous when Google uses the location history you don't want to share to identify your location and deliver better advertising opportunities for companies that want to target people around a particular area.

As stated above, disabling these two settings will keep Google out of most of your locations - but it may not stop the company entirely, especially for Android users.

The report indicates that there are still some Google apps that will continue to track your location, simply due to the way they function. Google's support page on the subject says that: "You can turn off Location History at any time". So opening up the Google Maps app will earn Google a snapshot of your location, for instance.

The Web & App Activity toggle will fully disable Google location tracking, but good luck finding it unless you know exactly where to look. "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".

Google always receives this info, as does Apple, as does any app you are using gets it if it asks for it, unless the systemwide "Location services" settings are off for the smartphone itself, in which case a user wouldn't be able to use something like Google Maps.

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Of course by "may be saved" Google means "will be saved" and it forgets to tell you that "Web and App Activity" is where you need to go to stop Search and Maps from storing your location data.

You can delete these location markers by hand, but it's a painstaking process since you have to select them individually, unless you want to delete all of your stored activity. This is certainly something to be aware of, especially if you previously turned off Location History thinking it would prevent your location tracking. "It's enabled by default and called 'Web and App Activity".

For any device: Fire up your browser and go to myactivity.google.com.

But even if you decide to "opt out" of storing this information, Google still saves information on your location. That last phrase appears to be referring to Web & App history, though Google wasn't clear on that.

Now You: Is location-based tracking turned on or off on your devices? Check out our overview of Google's Activity Controls here. 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. The AP created a visual map showing tracked location data from its investigation.

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