Google apps continue to track users even if location services are disabled

Posted:
in General Discussion edited August 2018
Google's services will attempt to monitor the movements of a user's device even if the user disables location services, with some Android and iOS apps produced by the search giant allegedly recording location data without the user's knowledge, an investigation into the feature claims.




The investigation by the Associated Press, working with researchers from Princeton, discovered some services will keep track of a user's location despite said user disabling features that are meant to stop the tracking from happening.

A primary example is Google Maps, which will request for access to location data for core functionality, such as for navigation or real-time location sharing with contacts. Users are also asked to agree for the app to record their location over time, with the results able to be displayed in a "timeline" that shows the user's movements.

Since this data can also be used in unintended ways, such as forming part of a search warrant for location data relating to a local crime, Google includes a setting called Location History, with the option to pause logging. According to Google's support page, Location History can be turned off at any time, and that places visited "are no longer stored" when it is disabled.

According to the investigation, this is untrue, with some Google Apps continuing to store time-stamped location data with it turned off. Google Maps captures the user's location as soon as they open the app, while apps and searches that even have nothing to do with geography can save the device's location to the user's Google account.

This doesn't just apply to Android smartphones and tablets, as iPhones and iPads using the Google Maps app are susceptible to the same issue.

Google claims it is being clear in communicating to its users how its data is being used, noting to location data along with web and app activity, can be used to enhance its other services.

"We provide clear descriptions of these tools, and robust controls so people can turn them on or off, and delete their histories at any time," Google said.

It was found that another setting other than Location History would need to be turned off to stop the recordings from happening. Leaving Web and App Activity enabled will still save data from apps to the user's Google account, and leaving it enabled while turning Location History off will only prevent additions to the Google Maps timeline, not stopping data collection altogether.

Stored location markers are kept on the My Activity page in the Google account, though not organized under a single list. Deleting location markers is possible, but only on an individual basis or by wiping the entire data set, with no middle ground of selecting a group to remove.

On turning off Location History on iOS devices, a pop-up notification warns "None of your Google apps will be able to store location data in Location History." It is noted by the report this is potentially misleading but "technically true," as Google Maps and others store geographical data in a section of the Google Account called "My Activity" rather than "Location History."

While the collection of data for use in its own services, such as dictating what advertisements a user sees, critics often warn of the privacy implications of this kind of data being provided to tech companies, especially due to the way it could be misused.

In 2017, the Raleigh, N.C. Police attempted to find out who could have caused a fire at an under-construction building. Suspecting arson, the police submitted a warrant to Google asking for data on all Android devices that passed through a specific geo-fenced area in a two-hour window of time on a given day.

The discovery of the warrant for data on a large number of individuals in this way prompted journalists to dig further into its use, and the revelation that the Raleigh Police Department had made similar warrant submissions for location data to Google 4 times since 2015.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 51
    tulkastulkas Posts: 3,748member
    Raise your hand if you are surprised that Google is abusing and violating their users privacy...
    edited August 2018 magman1979metrixbonobobRobPalmer9rob53olsanantksundarambaconstangp-dogcornchip
  • Reply 2 of 51
    racerhomie3racerhomie3 Posts: 1,090member
    Google Maps, and all Google search products have been uninstalled.
    magman1979RobPalmer9olstyler82baconstangp-dogrotateleftbytedarren mccoyairnerdjahblade
  • Reply 3 of 51
    Well, obviously, it's not Google's fault.

    It's the fault of end users not knowing how to navigate several baffling layers of Settings (with informative double-negative names) to turn things off, because everyone wants those things on by default.  Kind of like a do-not-call list, the default is to invite telemarketers to call you.

    magman1979olsp-dogEsquireCatscornchipairnerdjahbladewilliamlondonuraharawatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 51
    sure it's our fault they are stealing from us.
    RobPalmer9lamboaudi4frantisekwatto_cobrabigbillygoatgruff
  • Reply 5 of 51
    magman1979magman1979 Posts: 1,124member
    Google and Android, the biggest cesspools of bovine excrement this planet has ever seen, along with the brain-damaged trolls who profess their loyalty to it...
    RobPalmer9olsclaire1anton zuykovbaconstanglamboaudi4pscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 51
    As if I needed any more reasons to avoid Google at all costs. 
    RobPalmer9olsclaire1magman1979anton zuykovbaconstangp-dogcornchipfrantisekwilliamlondon
  • Reply 7 of 51
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,060member
    We need @gatorguy to explain why this is not really true and how Google remains the poster boy for truth, justice, and the American Way. 
    claire1magman1979suddenly newtonp-dogEsquireCatscornchiplamboaudi4williamlondonuraharapscooter63
  • Reply 8 of 51
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,060member
    Google and Android, the biggest cesspools of bovine excrement this planet has ever seen, along with the brain-damaged trolls who profess their loyalty to it...
    Ad hominem attacks on our resident Google apologist will not be tolerated.
    claire1magman1979anton zuykovp-dogcornchiplamboaudi4williamlondonwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 9 of 51
    nunzynunzy Posts: 662member
    All they do is chant "We're not evil" over and over again. But they are evil.
    claire1watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 51
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,579member
    lkrupp said:
    We need @gatorguy to explain why this is not really true and how Google remains the poster boy for truth, justice, and the American Way. 
    I already posted about this earlier today, calling it borderline deceptive

    I also took the time to explain how to fix it. You shouldn't have to, companies should be more clear and group similar menu options together. But they don't. And that's wrong
    edited August 2018 rob53ndirishfan1975muthuk_vanalingamEsquireCatsroundaboutnowuraharajony0
  • Reply 11 of 51
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 1,957member
    You know the drill. Congress needs to open inquiry and ask Google executives to come explain to congressional committee.
    olsanantksundaramclaire1watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 51
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,579member
    lkrupp said:
    Google and Android, the biggest cesspools of bovine excrement this planet has ever seen, along with the brain-damaged trolls who profess their loyalty to it...
    Ad hominem attacks on our resident Google apologist will not be tolerated.
    Are you looking for a diversion after getting some unwelcome forum attention of your own today? :/
    EsquireCatsairnerd
  • Reply 13 of 51
    wood1208 said:
    You know the drill. Congress needs to open inquiry and ask Google executives to come explain to congressional committee.
    they'll also send an inquiry to Apple since that will give them more publicity.  Presumably if you disable location services in iOS privacy settings for Google Maps, Google won't be able to override it?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 51
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,050member
    The CEO of Google, Alphabet, or whatever alias they are using this week should be arrested for theft by deception. Fining Google billions is meaningless. These games need to come to an end - now. Throw the bastards in jail. 
    edited August 2018 olsclaire1magman1979techblogger911pscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 51
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,579member
    markbyrn said:
    wood1208 said:
    You know the drill. Congress needs to open inquiry and ask Google executives to come explain to congressional committee.
    they'll also send an inquiry to Apple since that will give them more publicity.  Presumably if you disable location services in iOS privacy settings for Google Maps, Google won't be able to override it?
    IIRC if you want to actually disable all tracking on iOS it may require a visit to three separate places in Apple settings and understanding the proper setting might be just the opposite of what common sense might be telling you.  As I said earlier that's simply wrong when companies make it difficult to understand how to turn off/on user "features"  (! ! Less features please) and lead you to believe that one setting covers it all. In this case it's Google doing it wrong, and intentionally so IMO.  It's deceptive and should be called out. 
    edited August 2018 spice-boy
  • Reply 16 of 51
    Curious, if I have location set to “While Using” on my iPhone, does it still track? And if it’s set to “Never” what then?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 51
    Does this include gmail?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 51
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,579member
    Curious, if I have location set to “While Using” on my iPhone, does it still track? And if it’s set to “Never” what then?
    I think this is similar to Google Maps still noting your location even if "Location" is turned off:
    https://www.pcmag.com/article/362437/how-to-turn-off-location-services-on-ios-devices

    Things are quite purposefully left unclear in some cases IMO.  That's not the way it should be. Google is plainly wrong in the way they've set this up if not downright deceptive.
    edited August 2018 muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 19 of 51
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,861member
    This is exactly why you don't touch ANYTHING Google with a 100ft pole! They have to make money somehow! 
    magman1979anton zuykovwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 51
    gatorguy said:
    lkrupp said:
    We need @gatorguy to explain why this is not really true and how Google remains the poster boy for truth, justice, and the American Way. 
    I already posted about this earlier today, calling it borderline deceptive

    I also took the time to explain how to fix it. You shouldn't have to, companies should be more clear and group similar menu options together. But they don't. And that's wrong
    ‘Borderline’? Why?
    watto_cobra
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