Google, the behemoth tech company built off selling our personal data for profit, is tracking the location of billions of people, even those who have turned off their Location History. The AP recently discovered that preventing the data giant from collecting your personal location requires a lot more digging than Google would like you to believe.
We bring our phones with us everywhere and use them for everything from taking photos of our meals to video chatting with a friend on the opposite side of the world. Once a GPS started being placed inside every new phone rolling off assembly lines, our mobile friends became beacons for advertisers looking to cash in on the invaluable data which can be extracted from tracking someone’s daily movements.
Ever wondered why you got an eerily relevant ad right after leaving a store? Odds are, Google was able to track your phone there and then sell that data to advertisers looking to target you. Creepy, right?
Now, most people would assume that after they turn off Location History in their settings, the tracking and creepy ads would stop. Those people are wrong. Google still pinpoints and stores your exact location each time you open Google Maps, check the weather, or even perform a web search for dog food.
This problem isn’t exclusive to phones operating with Google’s Android operating system, either. Hundreds of millions of iPhone users who use Google apps are also subject to the same location tracking.
In order to make sure Big Brother Google doesn’t follow you home and store your personal whereabouts in their servers, you have to dig deep into your settings and turn off “Web and App Activity”, a setting that’s turned on by default. To delete your previously tracked locations requires even more work.
The misleading nature of Google’s messaging around turning off your location services has caught the attention of lawmakers, with Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey calling for “comprehensive consumer privacy and data security legislation.”
“If you’re going to allow users to turn off something called ‘Location History,’ then all the places where you maintain location history should be turned off,” said Jonathan Mayer, one of the Princeton researchers responsible for recognizing this breach of personal trust.
With any luck, legislators will be able to craft laws which better protect the privacy of our personal data, especially when it comes to tracking our daily movements. Until that time, go turn off your Web and App Activity, and just hope your Alexa is out of earshot next time you’re talking about that new TV you’ve been wanting.