Facebook has received great scrutiny for its cross-site tracking and mishandling of user data, but criticism of Google has been much less prevalent. Now, a report from AP reveals the company is tracking user's location even if they have opted out via their privacy settings. Naturally, this is a privacy concern for many users. It appears to happen if you don't give an app access to your location and pause Location History. In fact, a number of apps seem to give an estimate of your location when you simply open them or perform a search. In one case, AP found that searching for “kids science kit” provided the company with its location, accurate to a square foot. These findings were confirmed by computer scientists at Princeton on both iOS and Android. The big question users are asking is whether it's possible to turn this “feature” off. Google says you can, but the controls are hidden under seemingly unrelated features.
How To Disable Google's Location TrackingThe obvious thing to do is pause Google's location history, which is on by default and keeps a detailed timeline of every place you've visited. Disabling the setting may mean you'll see worse results for traffic predictions and business recommendations, but will keep your privacy more intact. However, as mentioned earlier, this isn't enough to stop Google tracking you. You also need to disable ‘Web & App Activity'. According to the description, this setting “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.” As you'll note, it doesn't explicitly mention location data, though it does reference Google maps. After drilling into the details via a linked page and collapsed sub-heading, you'll find that it collects the following:
- “Searches and other things you do on Google products and services, like Maps
- Your location, language, IP address, referrer, and whether you use a browser or an app
- Ads you click, or things you buy on an advertiser's site
- Information on your device like recent apps or contact names you searched for.”