Google have been under fire lately for their policies on tracking Android phone users' locations. Now, the company is facing up to the possibility of legal action in Arizona, due to claims that the company recorded the movement of its users without their consent.
Though users of Google's services can opt to switch off Location History, the claims accuse the corporation of continuing to track user location even after the functionality had been turned off. Indeed, this is something that appears to be taking place, even when users choose not to have their location tracked in real-time.
How users were tracked
Even once the 'Location History' feature had been disabled by users, it's said that Google continued to tracak the movements of some device owners. This was possible due to certain applications time-stamping the phone's physical location data without asking for permission, even if the 'Location History' service wasn't active. For example:
- When Google Maps is opened, Google takes a snapshot of your physical location at the time that the application is launched;
- Built-in weather updates are refreshed regularly throughout the day, at which point the Android phone pinpoints your exact location to provide up-to-date forecast information;
- Performing simple searches using Google's search tool results in precise triangulation of your location, accurate to a very small footprint, which is saved against your Google account.
All this information is collected and stored as part of the 'Web and App Activity' functionality, which doesn't require the explicit permissions afforded by the 'Location History' feature. By default, this functionality is enabled, and if it isn't disabled alongside 'Location History', then these certain aspects of your daily life can and will still be tracked.
Disable or hide your location
If you've already disabled 'Location History', but want to stop your location being tracked in other ways, then it's straightforward to make the necessary changes to your account. Just bear in mind that you can never be entirely anonymous, given the triangulation that's possible using cell towers.
- Ensuring that you're logged into your Google account, go to myactivity.google.com in your web browser;
- Navigate to 'Activity Controls' within the menu in the top-left corner of the screen, then switch off 'Web & App Activity'. Check that 'Location History' is already turned off.
Though this will stop your location from being tracked, it will also affect the viability of certain Google services. For example, the Google Assistant and the smart home speakers, the Google Home and Google Mini, will not be overly-useful in their results.
Removing past data
Now you've switched off your location data, you may want to review previously-tracked instances of your location. Fortunately, doing so is just as simple.
To remove past location data, visit the same URL as above and identify any data entries that have a location pin beside them. When you tap on those results, Google Maps will be opened to the specific location that was tracked; from here, you can tap on the navigation icon and hit 'Delete'.
Is it a security concern for you?
Though many users won't love the idea of having their data and location tracked, and though security breaches could theoretically lead to hackers gaining location data, it's not something that's reported on often. Moreover, Google are one of the biggest companies around and so it stands to reason that your data would be safer with such a large and established company.
Still, you now have the option to avoid having your location data tracked by following the above steps. If you're concerned about any other aspects of your online security, whether mobile or desktop, then you can get in touch with WiseGuys on 0808 123 2820 and we can advise you on all things security-related.