Google apps and services on Android devices and iPhones are storing location data even if users disable the Location History feature, according to an investigation by the Associated Press. Privacy has become a very sensitive issue among device users, and Google has provided certain tools to address concerns. However, when it comes to protecting their location data, it appears that users will need to go through a rather complicated process.
Turning Off Google’s Location History Doesn’t Do What It Should
Google offers a Location History feature that tracks the places where users have been over certain periods of time. Users who are uncomfortable with being tracked on where they have been are given the option to deactivate the feature, which Google says will stop the company from collecting the location data.
An Associated Press investigation, however, revealed that turning off Location History will not do what most users think. Even with the feature disabled, some Google apps still automatically store time-stamped location data without permission from users.
The report provides a few examples on the invasion of privacy, such as Google Maps storing the user’s location data as soon as it is launched, automatic daily weather updates tracking the user’s whereabouts, and Google searches storing precise latitude and longitude data even if they have nothing to do with locations.
The findings of the investigation were confirmed by a researcher from the laboratory of Jonathan Mayer, a computer scientist from Princeton and former chief technologist for the enforcement bureau of the Federal Communications Commission.
“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,” said Mayer. “That seems like a pretty straightforward position to have.”
How To Protect Your Location Data From Google
Fortunately, there is a way to deactivate all of Google’s location tracking methods, but it will require more steps beyond deactivating the Location History feature.
Users will need to sign in to their Google Account, and then access the Personal Info & Privacy menu. From there, select Go to My Activity, and then in the left-hand side, select Activity Controls. The Web & App Activity option will appear, which users should deactivate.
Users on Android smartphones will find the option easier, as under Google settings, they can just go into Google Account, then into Data & personalization.
Interestingly, the Web & App Activity option is placed above the Location History option, which suggests that they are different. However, users who want some privacy on their location data will need to switch off both of them.