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  1. ITV Report

Investigation finds Google tracks your movements - even if you tell it not to

An investigation has found that Google records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to. Photo: AP

Google records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to, an investigation by Associated Press has found.

Their report suggests there are many Google services on Android devices and iPhones which store location data, even if you have used a privacy setting which states it will prevent Google from doing so.

Storing your minute-by-minute travels carries privacy risks and has been used by police to determine the location of suspects.

However, the company will let you “pause” a setting called Location History. Google said this will prevent the company from remembering where you have been.

The tech giant’s support page on the subject states: “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

Associated Press reports that even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking.

Some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking, according to Associated Press. Credit: AP

Google stores a snapshot of where you are when you simply open its Maps app.

Automatic daily weather updates on Android phones pinpoint roughly where you are. Some searches that have nothing to do with location, such as “chocolate chip cookies”, or “kids science kits” pinpoint your precise latitude and longitude – accurate to the square foot – and save it to your Google account.

The privacy issue affects some two billion users of devices that run Google’s Android operating software and hundreds of millions of worldwide iPhone users who rely on Google for maps or searches.

Google says location records stored in My Activity are used to target ads. Credit: PA

Jonathan Mayer, a Princeton computer scientist and former chief technologist for the US Federal Communications Commission’s enforcement bureau, said: “If you’re going to allow users to turn off something called ‘Location History’, then all the places where you maintain location history should be turned off.

“That seems like a pretty straightforward position to have.”

Google insisted it has been perfectly clear.

The company said: “There are a number of different ways that Google may use location to improve people’s experience, including: Location History, Web and App Activity, and through device-level Location 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 has defended its policy. Credit: AP
  • How to delete your locations

To stop Google from saving these location markers, the company says, users can turn off another setting, one that does not specifically reference location information.

This setting, called “Web and App Activity” and enabled by default, stores a variety of information from Google apps and websites to your Google account.

When paused, it will prevent activity on any device from being saved to your account.

But leaving “Web & App Activity” on and turning “Location History” off only prevents Google from adding your movements to the “timeline” – its visualisation of your daily travels. It does not stop Google’s collection of other location markers.

You can delete these location markers by hand, but it is a painstaking process since you have to select them individually, unless you want to delete all of your stored activity.

You can see the stored location markers on a page in your Google account at myactivity.google.com, although these are typically scattered under several different headers, many of which are unrelated to location.