Google Tracking Movements Even When Users Tell It Not To

By M. Russo — Published August 14, 2018

Google Tracking Movements Even When Users Tell It Not To

It's come to light that Google is continuing to track user locations even when users have disabled location data services. Google's support page says, "You can turn off Location History at any time. With location off, the places you go are no longer stored." An investigation by Associated Press, however, has found this statement to be false.

Weather updates, simply opening the Maps app, and even using Google to conduct a search (not even limited to a location-specific search) will tag your latitude and longitude. This location data, down to the square foot, is then saved to your Google account along with a time stamp. The issue does not only affect Android phones but iPhones as well.

Google insists that it is being clear about tracking users' locations even when turning Location History off. A spokesperson from Google Said, "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." According to Google, "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."

Jonathan Mayer, a Princeton computer scientist and a former chief technologist for the Federal Communications Commission's enforcement bureau, said, "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. That seems like a pretty straightforward position to have."

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Tech companies are increasingly facing questions and outrage as more privacy breaches are discovered. There have been a series of privacy scandals lately, such as with Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica breach and the revelation that Gmail allows user emails to be read by third-party employees. Last week, Facebook's chief security officer Alex Stamos announced his resignation.

Virginia Senator Mark Warner said that these tech companies "have corporate practices that diverge wildly from the totally reasonable expectations of their users," calling it "frustratingly common." He, along with other Congresspeople, are urging policies that would protect consumer privacy and give users increased control over their personal data.

At this time, if you do not want Google to save location markers, you can turn off the "web and app activity" setting. This setting stores information from websites and apps to your Google account. To see your stored location markers, check myactivity.google.com, although it can be difficult to navigate as markers are scattered under many different headers.

Google uses location tracking for the purpose of more effective targeted advertising. Advertisers have been able to track how well their online ads have worked via Google since 2014 by using location histories to monitor foot traffic. Additionally, at the Google Marketing Live summit in July, Google revealed a new tool that will use ads to boost in-person store visits.

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