Google wants to know where you go so badly that it records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to. An Associated Press investigation found 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. Computer science researchers at Princeton confirmed these findings at the AP's request. For the most part, Google is upfront about asking permission to use your location information. An app like Google Maps will remind you to allow access to location if you use it for navigating.
Google records your movements even when you explicitly ask it not to. Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even after you have enabled privacy settings purportedly designed to stop data-gathering. Researchers created a visual map of the movements of Princeton postdoctoral researcher Gunes Acar based on the location history stored in his Google account. Dr Acar carried an Android phone with the'Location History' setting switched off during his travels. Despite the setting purportedly preventing data collection, Google kept records of Dr Acar's train commute on two trips to New York and visits to the High Line park, Chelsea Market, Hell's Kitchen, Central Park and Harlem.
Hundreds of popular apps are collecting location data that they claim is anonymous, but further analysis shows it can be easily linked to specific users. These apps include ones like the Weather Channel, GasBuddy and WeatherBug, many of which inform users that they collect location data, but not necessarily how the data will be used, an investigation from the New York Times found. The findings have raised both privacy and security concerns as advocates say many users are unaware how much they're being tracked. The location data was as precise as within a few yards and was found to update with new information thousands of times each day. In one case, data was collected from a child's phone The Times gained access to a database from a company that included information from more than a million phones in the New York area.
Apple also deserves credit for storing its own records of your location only on your device itself; unlike Google, Apple doesn't maintain a profile of your location anywhere on its servers. That's one of many reasons Apple has earned a reputation for better privacy practices than its chief rival (although some critics contend it could be doing much better). As this week's Google privacy snafu reminds us, though, Apple doesn't fully control what other apps (such as Google Maps) do with your location data once you've granted them permission to track it. So as long as you're allowing tracking, your privacy is at risk. The good news is, there is a straightforward way to prevent this, which is to turn off location services altogether.
After the Associated Press reported that certain Google apps still track you even if you turned off location history, Google has changed its help pages and tried to clarify the issue. "We have been updating the explanatory language about Location History to make it more consistent and clear across our platforms and help centers," Google told the AP in a statement. The AP's investigation found that with Location History off, Google still stores your coordinates when you open Maps or even do searches, even if they're not related to where you are. After the report first surfaced, Google effectively denied there was a problem, saying "we provide clear descriptions of these tools." Google has now removed the misleading language on the Location History help page.