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
33 months ago
Is anyone really surprised..?
Score: 69 Votes (Like | Disagree)
RedGala Avatar
33 months ago
Enough of a reason to ditch android and all google apps
Score: 61 Votes (Like | Disagree)
macduke Avatar
33 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
33 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
33 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
33 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

jon prosser imac 2021colors

Prosser: 2021 iMac to Come in Five Colors, Apple Silicon Mac Pro to Resemble 'Stacked' Mac Minis

Wednesday February 24, 2021 7:26 am PST by
Hit-and-miss leaker Jon Prosser has today alleged that the upcoming 2021 iMac models will offer five color options, mirroring the colors of the fourth-generation iPad Air, and revealed a number of additional details about the Mac Pro with Apple Silicon. In a new video on YouTube channel FrontPageTech, Prosser explained that the redesigned iMacs will come featuring options for Silver, Space ...
2021 mbp sd slot feature2

Kuo: New MacBook Pro Models With HDMI Port and SD Card Reader to Launch Later This Year

Monday February 22, 2021 8:52 pm PST by
Apple plans to release two new MacBook Pro models equipped with an HDMI port and SD card reader in the second half of 2021, according to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who outlined his expectations in a research note obtained by MacRumors. The return of an SD card reader was first reported by Bloomberg's Mark Gurman last month. "We predict that Apple's two new MacBook Pro models in 2H21 will have...
m1 mac mini

M1 Mac Users Report Excessive SSD Wear

Tuesday February 23, 2021 7:07 am PST by
Over the past week, some M1 Mac users have been reporting alarming SSD health readings, suggesting that these devices are writing extraordinary amounts of data to their drives (via iMore). Across Twitter and the MacRumors forums, users are reporting that M1 Macs are experiencing extremely high drive writes over a short space of time. In what appear to be the most severe cases, M1 Macs are sai...
iphone 12 pro display video

BOE Rumored to Supply iPhone 13 Display Panels After iPhone 12 Failures

Monday February 22, 2021 9:54 am PST by
Display manufacturer BOE will be one of the main suppliers of OLED panels for iPhone 13 models, according to a new report today from Taiwan's Economic Daily News. BOE is said to be working with touch panel manufacturer General Interface Solution (GIS), part of the Hon Hai Group to develop OLED panels. Multiple iPhone 12 rumors suggested that BOE would supply some panels for the devices,...
flat mbp 14 inch feature yellow

Redesigned 14-Inch MacBook Pro Expected to Feature Brighter Mini-LED Display With Slimmer Bezels and More

Thursday February 25, 2021 7:48 am PST by
Apple plans to unveil new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models with Mini-LED-backlit displays in the second half of this year, according to industry sources cited by Taiwanese supply chain publication DigiTimes. The report claims that Radiant Opto-Electronics will be the exclusive supplier of the Mini-LED backlight units, while Quanta Computer is said to be tasked with final assembly of the...
anker magsafe powercore battery pack

Anker Releases MagSafe-Compatible Battery Pack for iPhone 12 Lineup

Tuesday February 23, 2021 7:49 am PST by
Following rumors that Apple is working on a MagSafe battery pack for iPhone 12 models, popular accessory maker Anker has beaten Apple to the punch with the release of its PowerCore Magnetic 5K Wireless Power Bank. First previewed at CES 2021, the PowerCore battery pack magnetically attaches to the back of any iPhone 12 model and provides 5W of wireless charging. With a 5,000 mAh capacity,...
iPad Pro Mini LED

New iPad Pro and MacBook Models With Mini-LED Displays Again Rumored to Launch This Year

Monday February 22, 2021 9:32 pm PST by
Taiwanese company Ennostar will begin production of Mini-LED backlight units for an upcoming 12.9-inch iPad Pro in the late first quarter or second quarter of this year, according to industry sources cited by DigiTimes. Ennostar is a holding company that was jointly established in January 2021 by LED-related manufacturers Epistar and Lextar Electronics. Apple is expected to unveil the new ...
First Look Big Sur Feature2

Apple Releases macOS Big Sur 11.2.2 to Prevent MacBooks From Being Damaged by Third-Party Non-Compliant Docks

Thursday February 25, 2021 10:07 am PST by
Apple today released macOS Big Sur 11.2.2, the fourth update to the macOS Big Sur operating system that launched in November. macOS Big Sur 11.2.2 comes two weeks after the release of macOS Big Sur 11.2.1, a bug fix update. The new ‌‌‌‌macOS Big Sur‌‌‌ 11.2.2‌ update can be downloaded for free on all eligible Macs using the Software Update section of System Preferences....
steam apple logo

Valve Ordered to Give Apple Information on 436 Steam Games As Part of Epic Games Legal Case

Thursday February 25, 2021 1:50 am PST by
Valve, the makers behind popular game distribution platform Steam, will be forced to hand over aggregate historical sales, price, and other information on 436 games hosted on the store to Apple, as part of the Apple vs. Epic Games antitrust case. As reported in a paywalled report by Law360, during a virtual discovery hearing on Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas S. Hixson ordered that...
scott forstall original iphone

Epic Games 'Attempting to Locate' Former iOS Chief Scott Forstall to Testify in Ongoing Legal Battle with Apple

Tuesday February 23, 2021 4:22 am PST by
As part of its ongoing legal battle, Epic Games is now seeking testimony from Apple's former iOS software chief, Scott Forstall. Forstall left Apple in 2013, in what was widely reported at the time to have been a forced exit, largely because of the botched early launch of Apple Maps. Since then, Forstall has kept a very low profile and has only made a few media appearances in the past few...