An Associated Press investigation has found that even if you explicitly tell Google not to track your location and movements on your iPhone or Android smartphone, the company does anyway. The investigation found that users are being misled by Google’s claim that for those who turn off Location History “the places you go are no longer stored.” In fact, even with Location History turned off, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking, reports the AP:
For example, Google stores a snapshot of where you are when you merely open its Maps app. Automatic daily weather updates on Android phones pinpoint roughly where you are. And 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.
Googled issued a statement to the AP defending their actions, saying:
“There are a number of different ways that Google may use location to improve people’s experience, including: Location History, Web and App Activity, and through device-level Location Services. 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.”
While Google’s statement may be technically correct, the issue is that so many of the company’s services track your location, it’s virtually impossible for the user to know just how many services they need to disable to regain their privacy. As Jonathan Mayer, a Princeton computer scientist and former chief technologist for the Federal Communications Commission’s enforcement bureau, told the AP:
“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. That seems like a pretty straightforward position to have.”