Google is tracking your movements even when ‘Location History’ is off – here’s how to stop it
Big Brother is watching you, but you can do something about it
Oh Google, you scamp, what are you up to now? Are you tracing people’s movements against their will, keeping track of their location even when they’re under the impression they’ve explicitly opted out of such things, and constantly storing records of their location even though they don’t want you to and have made that clear?
You… bloody… rotter, Google. What are we going to do with you, eh?
Probably nothing, you’re enormous, you’re all-powerful, your search and email services are too good not to use and you own the world. Ah.
It turns out, even when you have Location Services turns off on your phone, Google are keeping track of your every move.
“With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored” says the message that pops up, making it completely reasonable for you to think that, well, the places you go to will not longer be stored. But in actual fact, other Google services are fairly constantly going for it.
The Associated Press, aided by Princeton computer scientists, found that various apps and services like Google Maps, Weather, Find My Device and simple Google searches automatically recorded the user’s location even with that option switched off. It then kept hold of that information – as TechCrunch points out, obviously you need to know someone’s location to give them accurate weather information, but do you need to keep hold of that after doing so? Isn’t that a bit sinister? And didn’t they say no?
There is a lot of contention at the moment over an issue known as “dark pattern design”, a catch-all term covering loads of methods that product designers and user interface experts use to influence people’s actions.
Think about all the times that you’re presented with a pop-up menu where the “OK, got it!” button consenting to data collection is massive and the one saying no is tiny and grey in the corner, or the instances when changing what feels like a fairly straightforward setting involves going into a three-deep “advanced settings” menu.
And that’s what has happened here.
While it seemed to all intents and purposes like turning off Location History should stop your phone recording your, well, location history, you were actually just stopping Location History (one named element of Google - note the caps) doing it, and not stopping all the other apps doing it all the damn time. In Google’s own, easily-ignorable words, “This setting does not affect other location services on your device, like Google Location Services and Find My Device. Some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other Google services, like Search and Maps.”
(It’s worth bearing in mind that, generally speaking, in instances like this, “some” means “all” and “may” means “will”.)
So, how can you stop it entirely?
Well, it’s within another menu, entitled “Web and App activity”, which you can get to (if you are logged into Google) here.
Google, you scamp!