Google Is Probably Tracking You, Even with Location Turned Off

Judy Cobb
August 19, 2018

Last November, a number of reports emerged, suggesting that Android phones can still track their users' location, even with location services turned off and the SIM card taken out.

The Associated Press on Monday ran a story saying an investigation found that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store users' location data even if the users explicitly used a privacy setting forbidding that. A researcher from Mr Mayer's lab confirmed AP's findings on multiple Android devices.

Have you deactivated the location history on your smartphone or do you want Google to always know where you are? But just to be clear, you'll also want to turn off your "Location History" too. But the issue is though Google claims it has left to the user to choose of the Location History should be saved or not, the investigation by AP shows Google is possibly not revealing the whole truth in this.

This problem impacts some two billion Android users and hundreds of millions of iPhone users across the globe who use Google maps or Search, said Nakashima. A spokesperson for the company said that it provides "clear descriptions" of all the Google tools that people use which may record users' locations. By ticking the Web & App activity toggle to "off", users can successfully escape being tracked by Google. The Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier this year exposed how data can be surreptitiously filched and used for purposes users never agreed to.

The issue roots from Google's "Location History" setting, which can be turned on and off depending on the user's preference. And when someone pauses location services, under the "Location History" option, it decreases the data collection but doesn't stop it. Regardless of whether you opted out in privacy settings. Even with the feature disabled, some Google apps still automatically store time-stamped location data without permission from users. Google has a lot of controls, menus, explanations, pop-ups, terms of service, and privacy policies to engage with across all of its products. No Location History, no Web and App Activity, and no device-level Location Services.

Turning off 'Location History' does not prevent Google from tracking you
PSA: Even with Location History off, Google will still track your location

You can also turn Location Services off to the device nearly completely from Settings Privacy Location Services.

According to Google's support page on the subject, "You can turn off Location History at any time".

The search engine giant, owned by Alphabet Inc., derives significant revenue through advertising, which is bolstered by user-generated data providing information useful to advertisers such as metrics on foot traffic.

We had yet another reminder of this on Monday when the Associated Press reported that Google was tracking users' movements through a completely separate process, much less transparent than Google Timeline, that still works even if you turn Google Timeline off.

The "Web and App Activity" option, when turned off, supposedly prevents Google from storing any of your location information. What's more, this information was stored in Acar's Google account.

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