Google is tracking your location, even when you ask it not to...

Google is tracking user locations even after they have opted out; it has emerged.

An investigation by the Associated Press has found that a number of commonly used Google apps and services, such as Maps and Search, track a user’s location history even if that user has specifically turned off the ‘location history’ setting on their Google preferences.

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Google does this by taking a snapshot of a user’s location when they open an app like Google Maps or perform a search. This location specific snapshot is time-and-date stamped and accurate to the square foot. If, like many, you are a regular user of Google search or use Google Maps to navigate then Google will be storing a lot of data on your movements – perhaps without your knowledge or permission.

Why does Google insist on harvesting my data?

Google’s reason for harvesting so much data is to boost advertising revenue, which rose 20 percent last year to $95.4billion. By offering advertisers access to the location history of the millions of users of Google’s products worldwide, it allows them to increase their effectiveness and target users more efficiently. Advertisers can target adverts to specific locations and then use Google’s location tracking to measure footfall as a result of those targeted adverts.

However, there is potentially a darker side to this collection of data. Earlier this year police in North Carolina, USA served a warrant to Google in order to use their location tracking to track devices close to a murder scene. Whilst using big data to track murder suspects is something many would agree with, it does not take a wild imagination to consider that this technology could be abused by law enforcement.

How can I turn off this tracking?

In order to prevent Google from storing your location, you need to turn off some settings. You can do this by accessing your Google account in a browser and navigating to myactivity.google.com and selecting ‘activity controls’.

In there, you will find some toggle options that relate to your data. The first one is an obvious one: location history. Turning this off (or ‘pausing’ as Google calls it) will stop Google overtly tracking your location.

However, they have been sneaky. The setting that allows Google to track your location when you open Maps or do a search is, unhelpfully, called ‘Web & App activity’. There is no mention of location tracking in the description.

By turning off both of these settings, Google will no longer track your location. It is worth noting though that doing so will put a stop to some of Google’s personalised recommendations and adverts based on places you have visited. If that service matters to you, you may wish to keep the settings enabled.

Keeping secure in an unsecure world

If there is one lesson that this story highlights, it is that we cannot rely on our privacy. In order to secure our digital lives, it is important to be proactive and not assume that internet companies have our best interests at heart.

entrustIT has worked painstakingly hard to give all users of our cloud services with complete transparency in how their data is used, as well as ensuring that the best safeguards and policy measures are in place to ensure that data is protected.

If this article has stirred you to conduct a thorough dive into cyber security at your organisation, maybe we can help. We work closely with our customers and partners to provide them with cloud services that keep pace in this digital world, but also don’t compromise on security.

Interested in Cyber Security and how it impacts on your GDPR requirements? Get the facts in our White Paper >>

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