Google is keeping track of users’ locations even when they do not have permission, according to an investigative report from the Associated Press released on Monday.
AP discovered “that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you’ve used a privacy setting that says it will prevent Google from doing so.”
This means that even if a user turns the “Location” setting off, Google is still tracking the location of the phone through other apps installed.
AP requested computer-science researchers at Princeton to look at their findings and confirmed that they were correct.
Having the locations of phone users stored can and have been used by the police when searching for suspects of crimes, but it is also considered a “privacy risk” to store your location at all times.
In AP’s report, Google claims that turning off the “Location History” setting will prevent them from collecting data on where users have been, and their support page even says, “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”
However, AP found many examples where this claim is false.
“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,” AP said.
“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.”
Princeton computer scientist Jonathan Mayer believes that the way Google is storing the data when they do not have permission from the user is wrong.
“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,” Mayer said. “That seems like a pretty straightforward position to have.”
A Google spokesperson explained to AP, “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.”
The warnings when turning off the Location History between the different types of phones are also worded differently and can confuse the users.
On the Android, it says “places you go with your devices will stop being added to your Location History map,” while the iPhone says “None of your Google apps will be able to store location data in Location History.”
There is another way to turn off the location tracking, however, it requires changing the permissions for each app.
It is also possible to delete location markers on a page in your Google account at myactivity.google.com.
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