Google Tracks Location Data, Permission or Not

This week, the Associated Press (AP) reported a stunning revelation regarding Google’s location-tracking practices. According to their report, Google has been storing users’ location data even when they turn Location History off in their privacy settings.


The report also points out that when you turn off location history on your devices, it only hides your location data from Google’s Timeline feature (which shows your location history on a map). This allows Google the ability to continue making inferences about you through your location and any other tracked information to which they have access (i.e. activity from your device, app use or web traffic).


According to the AP article, the only way to actually prevent Google from saving these location markers is to turn off an entirely-different setting that doesn’t mention location at all, Web and App Activity. Enabled by default, you can find this setting under Activity Controls.

Activity Controls Setting

This is yet another example where our privacy expectations as users are misaligned with a company’s practices. Location data is incredibly revealing and it’s reasonable to expect that this data is no longer stored when we are given and have used the option to turn off location history. Google—like many other companies—needs to truly embrace transparency and meaningful choice. Requiring us to dig through a multitude of buried settings to do something we thought that we’d already done just doesn’t count.


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