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GPS Disabled? Google Admits It’s Still Tracking Your Location

Google Maps Location Data Credit: BigTunaOnline / Shutterstock
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Amid revelations that its website and mobile apps continue to harvest and store user location data even when location services are disabled, Google this week discreetly updated its official help center document reflecting “new” data collection policies.

The changes were prompted this week when the Mountain View, California-baed search-giant found itself implicated in a scrutinizing Associated Press report. With th help of researchers affiliated with Princeton University, the world’s largest news organization found that Google continues to log user location data even when the features intended to prevent location tracking are enabled on their device.

Sadly, the paper notes that Google’s shenanigans apply to both iOS and Android users of the firm’s mobile apps — such as Google Maps — and its web-based search engine.

About Location History

In response to the Associated Press report, Google on Thursday updated its online support documentation reflecting a more thorough (and accurate) explanation of its “Location History” feature, with the new language indicating that “This setting does not affect other location services on your device,” and that “Some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other services, like Search and Maps.”

“We have been updating the explanatory language about Location History to make it more consistent and clear across our platforms and help centers,” Google confirmed in a statement to the Associated Press.

Notably, Google’s updated language reflects a full-180 from its former stance, which previously stipulated that location tracking features can be turned off at the user’s discretion, at any given time, if they so desire to prevent their locations from being logged by Google.

“With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored,” Google’s document said previously, according to The AP’s findings, which ultimately revealed the contradictions.

Issues with Privacy

Google’s mobile apps (notably, Google Maps) require location access to provide users with real-time directions when using it. This means that iOS and Android users have no choice but to allow their device to share this data with Google and its servers. 

While Google’s “Location History” feature was previously thought to address privacy concerns by allowing users to pause the logging of location data, it appears the company will in fact harvest user location information, regardless.

This news is unlikely to bode well with users who aren’t keen on the idea of their location being tracked all the time, but, at the least, Google is now being more transparent about what data it collects and stores. 

How to Fully Prevent Data Collection

Fortunately, users can still disable these location tracking features by visiting Google’s website and fully disabling “Web and App Activity”. Note: Doing so could cause issues when using Google’s services, or prevent using them entirely.

  1. To disable “Web and App Activity,” visit myaccount.google.com from your web browser and then sign into your Google account if not already logged in.
  2. Scroll down and click on the “My Activity” section and then click on the “GO TO MY ACTIVITY” link.
  3. Open “Activity Controls” settings by selecting Activity Controls from the left-hand panel, for view the settings directly by visiting myaccount.google.com/activitycontrols.
  4. From there, disable Web and App activity by toggling off the blue switch located beside the Web & App Activity settings then wait for the confirmation pop-up box.
  5. Confirm the action by clicking Pause in the pop-up box that follows.

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