Nation & World

Google tracks location data even when service is 'off': report

Even pausing Location History, some apps store time-stamped location data, AP found

Bloomberg

Google’s official message is to promote user autonomy when it comes to deciding what information to share.
Bloomberg Google’s official message is to promote user autonomy when it comes to deciding what information to share.

Google’s smartphone services store users’ locations even when privacy settings are adjusted to shut these features off, according to a new report by the Associated Press.

While the company asks permission for users to share location information on its applications, it doesn’t halt tracking services when users pause Location History, according to the AP study.

Google Maps, for example, grabs information when a user so much as opens the app, and automatic daily weather updates on Android phones give an approximation of user location.

Computer-science researchers at Princeton University confirmed the Associated Press’s findings.

Google’s official message is to promote user autonomy when it comes to deciding what information to share — “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored,” according to the company’s privacy page.

But the AP says that isn’t true. Even pausing the Location History, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without permission, the AP found.

“Location History is a Google product that is entirely opt in, and users have the controls to edit, delete or turn it off at any time,” the company said in a statement to Bloomberg.

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“As the story notes, we make sure Location History users know that when they disable the product, we continue to use location to improve the Google experience when they do things like perform a Google search or use Google for driving directions.”

The search engine giant, owned by Alphabet Inc., derives significant revenue through advertising, which is bolstered by user-generated data providing information useful to advertisers such as metrics on foot traffic.

Google recently reported its advertising business grew 24 percent in the second quarter, pushing Alphabet’s total revenue minus partner payouts to $26.24 billion.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently said the company is exploring new ways to place promoted content and advertisements into its Map services.

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