Google Is Tracking Your Location Even if You Tell It to Stop

Yolanda Curtis
August 14, 2018

That may seem contradictory, however, Google assured the Associated Press that it is all fine and above-board because the small print says the search biz will keep tracking you regardless.

It isn't surprising in the slightest that Google has more than one avenue to track a user's location, even after they've turned off a setting that explicitly deals with location tracking. That latter setting is enabled by default, and when it's turned on it will continue to track your location, as well as other important pieces of information, to store on your Google account.

The report, which was published Monday, shows Google still tracks users' movements. While Google has become a bit more transparent about tracking in recent years, the AP's study discovered there's still a lot going on that users aren't aware of.

After all, the Google support page says, "With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored". Prompted by a blog post written by a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley, the investigation focuses on a feature called Location History, which if turned on, allows Google to generate a mapped visualization of exactly where you've been throughout the day.

The report provides some examples: if you open Google Maps, a snapshot of the location is saved automatically.

"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".

Google's official message is to promote user autonomy when it comes to deciding what information to share: "You can turn off Location History at any time". You can wholesale delete all items in date ranges or by service, but will end up taking out more than just location markers. If you want to stop Google from tracking you nearly completely (for reasons I will explain below, you may not be able to stop every single instance of this), follow the two-step process below. While you're at it, make sure Location History is toggled off here as well.

If that bothers you, now you can opt out - for real.

Now we come to the crux of the issue, which is disabling Web & App activity. "View Google settings on your Android device to change this setting".

But it gets even weirder than that: because if you expect that turning off "Web and App Activity" would actually stop web and app activity in the same way turning off location history would turn off location data - then you've ended up in the wrong place again. For starters, you'll definitely want to disable the Location History feature.

Turn Web and App Activity on or off.

The iPhone text is technically true if potentially misleading.

Google also says location records stored in My Activity are used to target ads. The AP created a visual map showing tracked location data from its investigation.

Other reports by iNewsToday