Google records the movements of its Android and Apple users even after they've switched off "location history" in their settings, AP reported. Google records a user's location along with a timestamp each time the maps app is opened, when a user updates weather forecasts or makes certain searches, even if they are not location-related. Media's reports have been confirmed by researchers at Princeton University.
The "location history" description in the settings explicitly tells a user that when it is turned off "the places a [user] goes are no longer stored." In its official statement Google claims to have provided "clear descriptions" for all options, tools for removing one's history at any moment and noted that location tracking is used to improve a user's experience.
The company explained that for a phone to stop collecting location data, a user must turn off "web and app activity" — an option that contains no references to tracking a user's movements in its description.
At the same time, the tech giant provides more information on both options when a user works with them via the Google account website. There, when the "location history" is turned off a popup will appear informing a user that part of his/her activities will still be tracked, including search and maps. However, information regarding "web and app activity" functionality appears only when a user reactivates it — a thing that happens relatively rarely as it is turned on by default.
Information that pops up on devices upon deactivation of "location history" does say that a user's locations won't be stored in the "location history" of the user's account, but fails to explain that it will be partially stored in another section of the account called "my activity," AP pointed out.
Peter Lenz, a senior analyst at the advertising firm Dstillery cited by the media, points out that the reason for Google's vague description of the options is probably caused by a desire to boost revenues, which are presumably connected to the amount of user data.
US lawmakers from Virginia and New Jersey have urged to adopt laws, binding tech firms to provide users with clear control over how apps track their activities. Senator Mark Warner, in an interview with AP, said that such cases of unclear tracking are "frustratingly common" for users and offered to impose heavy penalties on those firms, abusing users' trust.
Netizens reacted differently to the news of Google tracking their movements even after switching off "location history." Many of them took their outrage to Twitter.
So, Facebook has an account created on you even if you don’t have a Facebook account, and Google is tracking your movements even if you’ve told it not to…it’s time to break these companies up.https://t.co/5N4UKWVhMM— LibrarianShipwreck (@libshipwreck) August 13, 2018
Apple been doing that from tje beginning, this can be used to solve crimes but the police won't touch it because it can be used against them— Robert D (@TheHerrDark) August 14, 2018
Thanks. This is all really no longer about privacy. It is about the monopolistic power of Google. If you can't afford an Apple product then you are pretty much stuck with Google and its Do-evil-somehow ways. What we reallt need is an alternative OS and ecosystem— Suresh Vaidyanathan (@sureshkayvee) August 14, 2018
Others wondered why everyone is so hyped about the news, noting that one has nothing to fear unless he or she has something to hide.
What is the problem with this? Unless you are some government official from other countries, it should be fine.— Abhishek Prakash (@abskpr) August 14, 2018
Nah, they do it with your knowledge. I think most people (rightly) assume that they'll just continue tracking you anyways. But they certainly do it without your consent. Which certainly sounds like a violation of the GDPR.— ブランドン (@forgifuzzbutt) August 14, 2018
Some even took the news with a bit of humor.
Yeah. Location is turned off, but since I drank a lot of extra soda and water today w/o eating much, everytime I go to the bathroom today, I been getting a ton of prostate supplement ads on my phone at every site I visit. I suspected something was up.— Electronzap (@electronzap) August 14, 2018