Investigation: Google watches your movements, even when users turn service off

Google tracks your movements even if you’ve turned location history off

Report: Google tracks users even with location history turned off | TheHill

The company has been known to track Google Maps users on iPhone and Android. Take a look at your app permissions, and you'll see that everything from your weather app to your general searches can pinpoint your location and report that information back to Google.

This dubious privacy infringement affects some two billion Android users worldwide, in addition to hundreds of millions of iOS users who rely on Google Maps or its search engine.

But it gets even weirder than that: because if you expect that turning off "Web and App Activity" would actually stop web and app activity in the same way turning off location history would turn off location data - then you've ended up in the wrong place again. What's a little less encouraging is that, apparently, Google can still track you, even if you ask it not to.

Some searches that have nothing to do with location, like 'chocolate chip cookies, ' or 'kids science kits, ' pinpoint your precise latitude and longitude - accurate to the square foot - and save it to your Google account.

Interestingly, Google isn't skirting its tracking.

'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'. However, it may be a shock to find out that even if you turn off Location History, those apps are still tracking and collecting your location information.

If you don't want Google to store all of your location data, you'll need to turn off Location History as well as another setting called "Web and App Activity". That latter setting is enabled by default, and when it's turned on it will continue to track your location, as well as other important pieces of information, to store on your Google account. So if you turn off this setting, Google stops tracking you, right? Even if reports like the AP's generate fleeting moments of outrage, we've already traded away a healthy portion of our identities and habits in order to be able to both use Google Maps and be served endless programmatic ads.

Now we come to the crux of the issue, which is disabling Web & App activity.

As for Shankari, she's most indignant about the opacity of the whole system; "I am not opposed to background location tracking in principle", she clarified.

So, you've turned off Location History on your phone in an effort to maintain your privacy and limit the amount of data you share with the big tech companies. If you think location tracking is off while Google Maps still shows you as a blue dot precisely where you are, I don't know what to tell you.

As Google points out, this pervasive data collection is precisely what "improves" "user experience", making searching, maps, and recommendations more efficient. "More data for them presumably means more profit". You're good to go. Check out our overview of Google's Activity Controls here. But leaving "Web & App Activity" on and turning "Location History" off only prevents Google from adding your movements to the "timeline", its visualization of your daily travels. "For example, you may stop seeing helpful recommendations based on the apps and sites you use".

Latest News