Is Google Still Tracking You After You Opted Out?

August 20, 2018 - 4 minutes read

Have you opted out of Google’s location tracking?

An investigation by the Associated Press (AP) has revealed that the tech titan may take this option as more of a preference than a stern command — many of the services it offers don’t stop recording your location, even after you’ve told them to.

The Benefit of the Doubt?

It doesn’t take a mobile app developer to see that some apps absolutely need your location to function. After all, how could Google Maps give you real-time directions without knowing where you are at the exact moment? But this does little to explain why Google apps still store your location history after you’ve opted out.

Regardless of the lack of clarification about this, the company, headquartered an hour out from San Francisco, insists that it’s super simple to stop this tracking. According to its support page: “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

Unfortunately, the AP investigation discovered that this wasn’t the case. When Princeton postdoctoral researcher Gunes Acar turned his Location History off, his phone still tracked his whereabouts through his Web & App Activity. For example, if Acar used his phone to check the weather, Google noted and recorded the location from the inquiry.

Crystal-Clear Instructions?

Google swears that everything regarding location history is not only optional but easy to edit according to one’s personal preferences. A statement issued by a Google spokesperson elaborates on the findings from AP:

“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. 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.”

Convoluted for a Reason

WIRED strongly disagrees with the above statement, though. It claims that adjusting your Web & Activity settings is not at all intuitive. It’s actually rather complicated! To make matters worse, there is also an extremely viable explanation for this — Google doesn’t want it to be easy.

Recently, the company has begun to push for more ad revenue driven by location tracking. With this in mind, it would make sense why it’s so darn hard for users to avoid it. But maybe the law can help fix this. Lawmakers across the United States have vowed to pay more attention to the data collection processes of tech giants in light of the news that Google still tracks users after they’ve opted out of location tracking.

Google’s made a host of questionable decisions over the past year. In this case, it seems like the only thing that will put a stop to this persistent location tracking is the law getting involved. What do you make of this situation? Has Google once again gone too far? And last but not least, have you adjusted your location tracking settings?

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