We live in a world of oversharing. It’s gotten to the point where we are far too comfortable letting others know where we are, what we are doing, and who we are doing these things with. There’s no more hiding, especially when you have a tracker sitting in your pocket. Yeah, we’re talking about your phone. Even if you turn off Google’s Location Services and Location History, they are still watching (and logging) your every move. So how do you stop Google from tracking your location? Let’s get to the bottom of it.
How Does Google Get Your Location?
The minute you get your phone, there’s probably already a Location History setting activated on the device. So off the bat, Location Services is pinging you everywhere you go. You can easily thwart that default option by going into your settings and toggling off the Location Services button. For most people, they think they’re done here. However, that’s not the case.
If you turn off your Location Services, it automatically starts tracking again when you use anything that involves your location. This could be:
- Social Media
- Weather Updates
Tracking where you are may seem convenient. It’s personalizing traffic routes, weather patterns, and local sales for you. However, it’s creating a road map for your life that other companies are cashing in on.
It’s Not Just Google Tracking You
Just because you turned Google’s Location Services off doesn’t mean others aren’t following your Android and iPhone’s every move. Turning off Google stops them from creating your location history, but other apps will still time-stamp and store your location information.
According to research conducted by the Associated Press, you need to do more than just turn off Location History or Location Services. In fact, daily activities of Princeton researcher, Gunes Acar, were still stored on Google’s Web and App Activity log after Location Services were shut off. This alarming realization stunned Senior Council at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Alan Butler, who said, “If Google is representing to its users that they can turn off or pause location tracking but it’s nevertheless tracking their location, that seems like textbook deception to me.”
Want to get around this deception? Here is how to really turn off Google’s tracking device.
How to Turn off Google Location History and Location Services
In order to really turn off location applications, you have to go deep into your Google account settings. If you linked your phone up to your Google account, they are storing everything in the company’s Web & App Activity setting.
This default setting that is turned on shares everything from your IP address to current whereabouts. What’s next? Banking and credit card info? Probably…
All you need to do to get rid of this Web & App Activity tracking is sign into your Google account.
For Browsers/Apple iOS:
- Go to Google Account located in the drop-down menu of the upper-right hand corner.
- Click Personal Info & Privacy.
- Select Go to My Activity.
- In the left-hand Navigator, click Activity Controls.
- There you will finally see Web & App Activity. Toggle this off.
- A bit easier, go to Google Settings and then Google Account
- Hit Data & Personalization.
- Here you will see the Web & App Activity. Toggle it off.
As you can see, it’s a bit of a workaround. However, it’s the only way to ensure your privacy.
Google’s Stance on Web & App Activity
Google has gone to great lengths in denying that the Web & App Activity gives up personal information. They are insistent that turning off Location History will suffice. In fact, to deter people, the Location History sits as a separate option as Web & App Activity.
To further push this narrative, Google themselves offer “help” to location-based questions in three different support pages:
- Mange or Delete Your Location History
- Turn Location On and Off For Your Android Device
- Manage Location Settings for Android Apps
Notice what’s missing? Any and all references to Web & App Activity.
As Google describes, the purpose of the Web & App Activity setting is it, “Saves your activity on Google sites and apps to give you faster searches, better recommendations, and more personalized experiences in Maps, Search, and other Google services.”
To further sell this idea, when you do turn off the toggle for Web & App Activity, you will receive the following warning, “Pausing Web & App Activity may limit or disable more personalized experiences across Google services. For example, you may stop seeing more relevant search results or recommendations about places you care about. Even when this setting is paused, Google may temporarily use information from recent searches in order to improve the quality of the active search session.”
Don’t fall this “warning.” It is done to intimidate you into second-guessing your decision. If you truly want to be free of corporate tracking, turning off the blue toggle is the only way to go.
Is This an FTC Violation?
Should the Federal Trade Commission step in against Google? After all, acting like Web & App Activity is different than Location Services and Location HIstory is borderline deceptive, especially when they all generate the same personal information on the user.
These exact issues are much like the ones that Facebook has been facing with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Facebook was selling private info of its members unknowingly and without their consent. Since the FTC found that the social media giant has proven they do not protect their users’ data, Facebook had to change the way they tracked and shared information.
As Butler finalized, “Google’s reaction—that users can delete individual data points, or users can go deep down in settings and turn off certain web settings that appear to have nothing to do with location, therefore it should be okay, I think fundamentally misunderstands what they’re dealing with. When you’re creating a historical log of someone’s movements over time, that’s information that’s uniquely sensitive and needs to be handled accordingly.”
Until protections are put into place on a federal level, it is best to take matters into your own hands. Go deep into the rabbit hole that is Google’s settings. Be sure you to Web & App Activity. Lastly, turn off the toggle. This is the only way your information will remain with you…and you alone.