Google tracks your every single movement, researchers confirms

Sheri Evans
August 14, 2018

Researchers at Princeton University in the U.S. this week confirmed on both Android handhelds and iPhones that even if you go into your smartphone's settings and turn off "location history", Google continues to snoop on your whereabouts and save it to your personal profile. If you keep it on, it will continue to not only track your location, but also store a variety of other pieces of information to your Google account as well. In the former category, if you open your Google Maps app, even with all the tracking permissions shut off, it still takes a "snapshot" of your location and stores it.

Pausing Web & App Activity, and Location History seems to be the only way that prevents Google from recording location-based information. You can turn off location history, Google Search results, YouTube Search logs and more.

"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", a Google spokesperson said in a statement to the AP. He says that "storing location data in violation of a user's preferences is wrong".

Indeed, even when Location History is toggled off in your Google account settings, AP discovered, actions like searching for something in your browser, checking automatic weather updates and opening Google Maps will record your location.

Ultimately, it's unclear whether Google will do anything about this finding from the AP.

'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 has hit back after fresh criticism from privacy campaigners at claims the tech giant has routinely tracked the movement of users of some of its most popular services, even when they have explicitly asked it not to do so.

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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. Google's support page on the subject states: "You can turn off Location History at any time".

Google says tracking users' locations helps it to target geographically-specific ads.

The AP's findings were confirmed by computer-science researchers at Princeton University.

Interestingly, Google isn't skirting its tracking. You need to go into your settings and find "Web & App Activity" and shut off tracking there.

If you want to go one step further, tap on Manage Timeline at the bottom of the screen.

The iPhone text is technically true if potentially misleading. This information is stored under "My Activity".

The tech giant's ad revenue rose 20 percent a year ago to $95.4 billion, largely due to location tracking to drive ad revenue. Check out our overview of Google's Activity Controls here. It'd be nice if the "Web & App Activity" feature also made it clear that it stopped location tracking efforts, too.

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