Is it true that Google tracks my location even if I’ve turned off the Location History setting on my smartphone?
This question was answered on September 12, 2018. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.
A recent story published by the Associated Press (https://goo.gl/HdW4on) outlining the complexity of Google’s various location tracking systems has created quite a stir for users and some government agencies, including Arizona’s Attorney General.
At the center of this issue is what many are referring to as confusing or misleading information about how location information is tracked by Google.
Device, Web & App Controls
Because so many of us use so many of Google’s products, there isn’t a single place to control everything that is being tracked.
Many users may assume that if they pause the ‘Location History’ settings on their Android smartphone, that controls what Google tracks, but that isn’t the case.
This setting simply stops your device from storing your location history, but other settings will control what Google is tracking and storing in addition.
A number of these tracking processes are used to assist popular products such as Google Maps, Search, Chrome, Assistant and Weather, which is unrelated to your device’s Location History.
Unless you specifically go to the Web & App Activity settings (https://goo.gl/de2rMk) and manually make changes, much of this tracking is turned on by default so that many of the products we use everyday fully function.
If you’re OK with manually entering both your current location and desired destination whenever you use ANY mapping program, then you’ll be fine if you turn off all location settings.
Turning off (or pausing) all settings that allow some form of tracking will also disable personalization for various tools, so make sure you understand what you are pausing and how it might impact the tools you do want to use. Both Google Assistant and Google Home, which is their smart speaker, are items that will be greatly impacted when everything has been turned off.
Pausing Doesn’t Delete History
If you’re looking to get rid of the data Google already has collected, you’ll need to take some additional steps by going to https://myactivity.google.com and clicking on the three vertical dots in the top right corner of each section.
If you want to perform more of a global deletion, you’ll want to locate the three vertical dots in the blue column at the top of the page. When you click on it, look for the ‘Delete activity by’ option.
You can delete results using keywords or product names if you want to be selective or delete everything for all products by choosing ‘All time’ and ‘All products’ in the ‘Delete by date’ section.
iPhone Users Are Included
Google is tracking users regardless of what device they are using, so just because you use an iPhone, it doesn’t mean you aren’t impacted.
If you have a Google account that you use on an iPhone, all of the settings outlined above still apply to you. If you use Google Maps instead of Apple Maps, you can change the location setting to ‘While Using’ to prevent Google from accessing your location when the app is not active (Settings => Privacy => Location Services then tap on Google Maps).
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Posted by Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on September 12, 2018