Google is tracking your location even when you tell it not to

Credit Illustration by Ad Age

Google's own instructions say, 'You can turn off Location History at any time. Smartphones also connect to cell towers, so your carrier knows your general location at all times.

Going off the grid with Google is harder than you might expect.

Google representatives told the AP this location tracking can be disabled completely by turning off the "Web & App Activity" feature; find that setting here. That popup states that, when active, the setting "saves the things you do on Google sites, apps, and services ... and associated information, like location". That can limit the effectiveness of the Google Assistant, the company's digital concierge.

Google is tracking your location-even if you wish it wouldn't.

What's disconcerting about this statement is the use of the word "including" before listing off the sections of Google's privacy preferences, which leaves room for other, unlisted means of location tracking. It also becomes onerous when Google uses the location history you don't want to share to identify your location and deliver better advertising opportunities for companies that want to target people around a particular area.

It's a good question and one the Associated Press was eager to look into with the help of computer science researchers at Princeton University. (This still won't prevent advertisers from knowing your rough location based on IP address on any website).

Google users can disable location history on this page, but some Google applications keep track of your location even if you do. An app like Google Maps will remind you to allow access to the location if you use it for navigating. Emergency responders will still be able to find you if the need arises. So the company will let you "pause" a setting called Location History. Scroll down to the "Privacy" heading.

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If you've used a smartphone for any length of time, you're probably aware that there are options to turn off location tracking.

For the most part, Google is upfront about asking permission to use your location information. Unlike the iPhone, there is no setting for "While Using". However, it appears that Google takes a snapshot of where you are anytime you open its Maps app, even if Location History is off.

Sign in as a "guest" on your Android device by swiping down from top and tapping the downward-facing caret, then again on the torso icon.

While disabling "Web & App Activity" will stop Google from storing location markers, it also prevents Google from storing information generated by searches and other activity. Clicking on that pops up a window that includes a link that sometimes says "From your current location".

You can delete it from this popup by clicking on the navigation icon with the three stacked dots and then "Delete".

Users can delete stored location markers by hand, but each one has to be selected and deleted individually - unless you want to delete all of your stored activity - making it a time-consuming process.


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