Google's iOS and Android Apps Track and Store Location Data With Location History Disabled

Some Google apps on iOS and Android devices continue to store location history even with the setting disabled, according to a new AP report citing data collected by computer science researchers at Princeton.

Location History, a feature available in Google apps like Google Maps, is an option that allows the app to display the locations that you've visited in a timeline. Princeton researcher Gunnar Acar turned off the Location History option in his Google account, but his devices continued to record the locations he had visited.

googledatacollection

Data collected from a Princeton researcher on an Android phone with Location History disabled

It appears that even with Location History paused, some Google apps are ignoring the setting and continue to store time-stamped location data, due to confusing data collection policies that allow other app features to also store location information.

For example, Google stores a snapshot of where you are when you merely open its Maps app. Automatic daily weather updates on Android phones pinpoint roughly where you are. And some searches that have nothing to do with location, like "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.

While Princeton's research focused on Android devices, independent AP testing confirmed that iPhones are exhibiting the same behavior when used with Google apps.

In response to a query about the Location History tracking, Google said that it is clear about its location policies. As it turns out though, the way Google collects location data is confusing and misleading.

"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," a Google spokesperson said in a statement to the AP. "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."

According to Google, users need to turn off "Web and App Activity," a setting enabled by default, to prevent all location data on iOS and Android devices from being saved to a Google account. Leaving "Web and App Activity" enabled while turning off "Location History" prevents Google from adding movements to the built-in timeline, but it does not stop Google from collecting other location information.

This location data collected by Google can be found under myactivity.google.com, but as the AP points out, this information is scattered under different headers often unrelated to location.

To be clear, Google is not illicitly collecting location data, but it is obfuscating its location data policies and collecting data through features that do not mention location information. Many people may not know these Google features are enabled at all, as it's a default setting.

Google's only mention that it may continue storing some location data is in a popup that appears when Location History is disabled through the Google account settings. This popup states that "some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other Google services, like Search and Maps."

On iPhone, when Location History is disabled via settings in Google apps, it says "None of your Google apps will be able to store location data in Location History." As the AP points out, this statement is true but misleading, because while location data isn't stored in Location History, it's still stored under "My Activity."

Location information stored in "My Activity" is used for ad targeting purposes.

Both "Web and App Activity" and "Location History" need to be disabled to prevent Google from collecting any location data, which can be done through the user settings of a Google account. On iOS devices, not using Google apps and disabling location services for Google apps is also an effective method for preventing Google from collecting location data.

Tag: Google

Top Rated Comments

Santabean2000 Avatar
30 months ago
Is anyone really surprised..?
Score: 69 Votes (Like | Disagree)
RedGala Avatar
30 months ago
Enough of a reason to ditch android and all google apps
Score: 61 Votes (Like | Disagree)
macduke Avatar
30 months ago
If you didn't expect this then you've been living under a rock. This is Google all day every day. I'd be more surprised if they didn't do this.
Score: 46 Votes (Like | Disagree)
rtomyj Avatar
30 months ago

Is anyone really surprised..?

Exactly. I cannot fathom how people can use Google services anymore. All their services have decent alternatives (yes even search).

Now they’re are double dipping: ads/tracking and premium prices on hardware... Do no evil my ass.
Score: 38 Votes (Like | Disagree)
m0sher Avatar
30 months ago
Well looks like I’ll be moving to Apple Maps exclusively.

I’m glad Apple has been doing a lot of revamping and getting it up to par, couldn’t come at a better time.

Apple data privacy is hands-down better than Google’s data mining activity where Goggle even does it against your will.

Can’t wait for iOS 12 this fall.
Score: 28 Votes (Like | Disagree)
larsolson Avatar
30 months ago
Isn’t this a violation of Apple’s terms of service? If so, time to remove their apps like others who are removed for violations.
Score: 23 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

0 Deals Hero

Black Friday 2020: Best Apple Deals to Plan For

Saturday November 21, 2020 10:00 am PST by
In the lead-up to Black Friday next week, we've been putting a spotlight on the best deals coming from various retailers like Best Buy and Walmart. In an effort to further prepare our readers for the best Black Friday deals, we're breaking down what we think should be on your radar for Black Friday in 2020. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a...
m1 mac mini vignette

Apple Lists M1-Based Mac Mini Logic Boards With 10 Gigabit Ethernet in Internal Parts Ordering System

Friday November 20, 2020 9:32 am PST by
While the new Mac mini with the M1 chip is only available with Gigabit Ethernet, Apple has listed multiple M1-based Mac mini logic boards with 10 Gigabit Ethernet in an internal parts list for Apple Authorized Service Providers. For every Mac mini logic board with Gigabit Ethernet in the parts list, obtained by MacRumors, there is a corresponding logic board with 10 Gigabit Ethernet:...
new m1 chip

Craig Federighi: Native Windows on M1 Macs is 'Really up to Microsoft'

Friday November 20, 2020 11:57 am PST by
Following the release of the M1 Macs Apple executives have been doing interviews with a range of publications, and today, Ars Technica published another interview with software engineering chief Craig Federighi, hardware technologies lead Johny Srouji, and marketing VP Greg Joswiak. Much of the interview focuses on topics that the three have already covered in prior discussions, but there is ...
14

Apple Releases iOS 14.2.1 With Fix for Text Message Bug and iPhone 12 Mini Lock Screen Issues

Thursday November 19, 2020 10:16 am PST by
Apple today released iOS 14.2.1, a bug fix update that comes two weeks after the launch of iOS 14.2 and is available for Apple's new iPhone 12 models. The iOS 14.2.1 update can be downloaded for free and it is available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To access the new software, go to Settings > General > Software Update. According to Apple's release notes, iOS...
Walmart November Deals Hero

Black Friday Spotlight: Walmart Will Have AirPods Pro Down to Lowest Price of $169, and More Apple Deals

Thursday November 19, 2020 8:05 am PST by
We've been tracking early Black Friday deals in our dedicated Black Friday Roundup, and in an effort to prepare our readers for the big shopping event we're highlighting sales store-by-store in the lead-up to November 27. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Walmart. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running. Next ...
apple leather sleeve

Leather Sleeve for iPhone 12 Models Now Available From Apple

Friday November 20, 2020 12:16 pm PST by
Apple today began selling the Leather Sleeve for the new iPhone 12 models, with the accessory having first been announced alongside the updated iPhones in October. Priced at $129, the Leather Sleeve is not a case and is designed to be removed when the iPhone is in use. It features a cutout at the front that displays the time, and it comes with a matching leather strap. According to Apple, it ...
iOS14AntitrackFacebookSadfeature

Apple Confirms Commitment to App Tracking Transparency in Letter Condemning Facebook's Data Collection [Updated]

Thursday November 19, 2020 11:58 am PST by
Apple in iOS 14 is planning to introduce a new App Tracking Transparency feature that will let users know when companies want to track them across apps and website. Following outcry from developers like Facebook and ad networks unprepared for the change, Apple delayed the implementation of the anti-tracking functionality until early 2021. Eight civil society organizations recently sent a...
maxresdefault

CrossOver Allows x86 Windows Apps to Run on Apple M1 Macs

Wednesday November 18, 2020 6:07 pm PST by
Codeweavers posted a blog post and video tonight showing off CrossOver running on an Apple M1 MacBook Air. This video shows Team Fortress 2 running on a new M1 MacBook Air: CrossOver is software (based on Wine Project) that runs Microsoft Windows apps on the Mac by translating Windows APIs into their Mac equivalents. The Codeweavers team was able to run the current version of CrossOver on...
macbookpro13large

Apple Offers Instructions on What to Do if macOS Big Sur Causes Installation Errors on 2013 and 2014 MacBook Pro

Thursday November 19, 2020 6:12 pm PST by
Following the release of macOS Big Sur last week, a number of 2013 and 2014 MacBook Pro owners found that the update bricked their machines. Affected users saw their Macs get stuck displaying a black screen after attempting to install the new software. Apple has now addressed this issue in a new support document that provides instructions on what to do if macOS Big Sur can't be installed on...
128gb m1 macbook air education cropped

$799 M1 MacBook Air With 128GB Storage for Education Institutions Spotted Online

Friday November 20, 2020 5:15 am PST by
A new configuration of the M1 MacBook Air with 128GB of storage and a lower $799 price has today been spotted on Apple's U.S. Education Institution Hardware and Software Price List. The M1 MacBook Air is only available with 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB of storage. There is currently no 128GB configuration on the Apple Store. However, Reddit user "u/dduci97" noticed that Apple has listed...