Published: Tue, August 14, 2018
Tech | By Constance Martin

Google search knows where you were even if you disabled Location History

Google search knows where you were even if you disabled Location History

Google's smartphone services store users' locations even when privacy settings are adjusted to shut these features off, according to a report by the Associated Press.

The Associated Press quotes Google's support pages as saying: "You can turn off Location History at any time".

It seems that even with Location History put on pause, a number of Google apps still automatically store your location data without asking. But it also prevents the company from storing search information, which limits Google Assistant's effectiveness.

It bears noting that unless you're involved in a murder investigation, Google's location tracking has largely altruistic motives: providing personalized experiences, location-oriented recommendations and so on. That's the two billion or so who use Android devices plus the hundreds of millions of iPhone users running Google map and search apps.

Computer-science researchers at Princeton confirmed these findings at the AP's request. You need to go into your settings and find "Web & App Activity" and shut off tracking there.

"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".

When paused, it will prevent activity on any device from being saved to your account. That should prevent precise location markers from being stored to your Google account.

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Getting rid of those location markers, AP reported, is "a painstaking process". This is, of course, because Maps is not the only app that uses your location history. If you get regular weather updates and alerts, even with location tracking turned off, it turns back on every time it updates the weather for you.

Another popup also appears when re-enabling Web & App Activity, but since this setting is on by default, it's not likely the users will see it unless they already know about disabling these services. That's technically true. But it's still storing the location information in another repository called "My Activity".

And if you want to turn off web and app activity, you need to go to Google settings - although where precisely it's not clear.

Google is tracking your location-even if you wish it wouldn't.

As for Shankari, she's most indignant about the opacity of the whole system; "I am not opposed to background location tracking in principle", she clarified. "More data for them presumably means more profit". Searches that grabbed your location will have the small location pin icon next to them; delete those to cover up your tracks.

Since 2014, Google has let advertisers track the effectiveness of online ads at driving foot traffic, a feature that Google has said relies on user location histories. 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. So, to erase your entire Google footprint, you'll want to go into the "My Activity" page where you can see everything you've done that touches Google services.

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