Google tracks location of smartphone users despite restriction, AP confirms privacy breach

11:48 AM | 14 Aug, 2018
Google tracks location of smartphone users despite restriction, AP confirms privacy breach
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WASHINGTON - Search giant Google keeps a track of your location history even when you explicitly turn the feature off, endangering the privacy of mobile phone users, it has emerged.

According to a research by Associated Press, many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store the location data even if someone uses a privacy setting that is intended to bar Google from doing so.

Mostly Google asks permission to use your location information and its app like Google Maps will remind you to allow access to location if you use it for navigating.

If you agree to let it record your location, the application will display that history for you in a “timeline” that maps out your daily movements.

Google's support page on the subject states: “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

However, this is not the case in reality because the location is still tracked. For instance, Google stores a snapshot of your location when you open its Maps app.

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Moreover, automatic daily weather updates on Android phones pinpoint roughly where you are and some searches that have nothing to do with location, such as “chocolate chip cookies” or “kids science kits”, pinpoint your location coordinates accurate to the square foot and save it to your Google account - despite that the location is turned off in Google maps.

The AP's research is bolstered by computer science researchers at Princeton who confirmed that Google does keep a record of location through multiple applications.

Furthermore, a researcher from Mayer's lab confirmed the AP's findings on multiple Android devices.

“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," Mayer said.

Storing your up to date data carries privacy risks and has been used by police to determine the location of suspects.

The privacy issue affects about 2 billion users of devices that run Google's Android operating software and hundreds of millions of worldwide iPhone users who rely on Google for maps or search.

Turn Off Location Fully

Though Google is way much conscious about storing the location, even then there are ways which can outpower the search giant, one of which is provided by wired.com.

  • Go to a setting buried deep in your Google Account called Web & App Activity. It is set by default to share your information, including not just location but IP address and more.
  • Sign in to your Google account. In the browser, access your account settings by finding  Google Account in the dropdown in the upper right-hand corner, then head to Personal Info & Privacy, choose Go to My Activity, then in the left-hand nav click Activity Controls. Once there you'll see the setting called Web & App Activity, which you can toggle off.
  • On your Android phone, go from  Google settings to  Google Account, then tap on Data & personalization. You'll find Web & App Activity there.
  • Google further buries the notion that Web & App Activity has anything to do with location. In fact, the setting sits right above the Location History option. From there, you have to tap Learn more, then scroll to What's saved as Web & App Activity, and tap again on Info about your searches & more before Google says anything about location whatsoever.
  • To stop that tracking, toggle the blue Web & App Activityslider to off. Google will then give you a popup warning: "Pausing Web & App Activity may limit or disable more personalized experiences across Google services.
  • After this, you may stop seeing more relevant search results or recommendations about places you care about. Even when this setting is paused, Google may temporarily use information from recent searches in order to improve the quality of the active search session.