Google Caught Being Sneaky With Location Data Collection

Posted on August 14, 2018 by Mehedi Hassan in Google with 33 Comments

Google is once again finding itself in a privacy-related controversy. The company was just recently slapped with a $5 billion antitrust fine by the EU, and it could face further allegations as part of the new foundings reported by the AP.

The company collects your location data even when you have turned off Location History across all its services. The company doesn’t collect your location data as part of the Location History feature, but instead, it continues to collect as part of “Web and App Activity” across its services. And that’s where the problem lies.

When a user turns off Location History, they most likely think they are completely stopping Google from collecting any sort of location data. But that’s not the case, and the company’s services will continue to collect location data and store it in your Google account. As part of the Web and App activities, Google usually collects your location data when you open the Maps app or even perform regular searches on Google that don’t even require your current location.

“There are a number of different ways that Google may use location to improve people’s experience, including: Location History, Web and App Activity, and through device-level Location Services,” a Google spokesperson told the AP. “We provide clear descriptions of these tools, and robust controls so people can turn them on or off, and delete their histories at any time.”

You can turn off Web and App Activity on your Google account to stop the company from collecting your location data, but that’s not an ideal solution. Google, like other tech giants, claims to be respectful of its users’ privacy, and having to turn-off location collection multiple times to completely stop the company from collecting your location isn’t what you’d call “respecting” someone’s privacy. There should be a single, unified button that completely — completely— stops Google from collecting users’ location. No Location History, no Web and App Activity, and no device-level Location Services.

It is quite difficult to use modern services without really giving out your location data nowadays — Google Maps needs your location data to recommend restaurants you might like depending on your past visits to other restaurants, and even apps like Snapchat need your location to provide interactive filters like the location filter for different cities, festivals, etc. But when a user clearly doesn’t want their location data to be collected, companies like Google should respect their decision and just completely stop collecting their data instead of being all sneaky.

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Comments (33)

33 responses to “Google Caught Being Sneaky With Location Data Collection”

  1. alpensturm

    After not using ANY Google services, yes, including Google search and also YouTube for over a year, I must say, life is still good - i would say, it is even better! No regrets turning away from that company!

    • Tony Barrett

      In reply to alpensturm:

      You don't really have anyone else to turn to who doesn't do the same things. Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Apple all collect reams of data about you. It's just what they do with it that matters...

    • MichaelMDiv

      In reply to alpensturm:

      Plus, if the podcasts on TWiT are accurate, Facebook and Google have "shadow profiles", data collected from other users and third parties about you. I don't think you can quit one company and think that you are secured.

      Having said that, congrats on one year without Google!

      • Captain_Eric

        In reply to MichaelMDiv:

        I hear you. This stuff is everywhere. But if we had a chance to set it up today, I think we want these things absolutely clear and electable.

        As it is, after all this water under the bridge, and yes obfuscation, we are stuck with this system?

        I hope not.

  2. BMcDonald

    I love the way Google and every other BS data abusing company make it sound like they are doing me some sort of favor by "improving my experience".

    99.9999% of the time when I use Google Maps - I am trying to answer a single simple question - as in - "Where the F is this place we are supposed to be at?".

    I have have no desire to have anything improved, no desire to stop at or even know what restaurants are nearby or accept, read or acknowledge any other crap improvements they are trying to inject into "my experience"

    Here's a tip - work on making sure I get a 100% accurate instruction in how to answer my single question as above and you have done your job.

    There should be a toggle that says "I do not wish to have my experience improved".


  3. MikeGalos

    I hardly think violating user agreements and international privacy laws is "Caught Being Sneaky". I believe the phrase you're looking for is "may have committed multiple felonies".

    Once again Google is showing their motto is "Don't get caught being evil"

  4. nicholas_kathrein

    This has been known for months as there was many of these type of articles at least 1 if not 2 months ago on this very topic. I guess a group of tech writers missed it and now something surfaced to go again on this old news.

  5. meek_teef

    I fear that folks with tinfoil hats wound up their asses are going to ruin Google for all of us.

    People want to have their cake and it. Practically all of Google services are useless without location information.

    If you don't trust Google with your data, STOP USING GOOGLE SERVICES.


    If you search for "Burger King" in Google, how the fuck is Google supposed to give you relevant and contextual aware results without your location?

    Is Google being sneaky or are these irrational, mentally disturbed, paranoid, privacy asshats just dumb?

    • BMcDonald

      In reply to meek_teef:

      If I search for Burger King - I have no issue with Google Maps using my current GPS location to find out what BK's are nearby. But storing that information is quite another thing.

    • spacein_vader

      In reply to meek_teef:

      Google is being sneaky. If they want to use and store the data when you use their services that's fair enough, but then don't pretend to give people an option. I

      f you provide a switch to turn off your Location History that doesn't actually turn off your location history then you're just being dishonest.

    • red.radar

      In reply to meek_teef:

      access is one thing. Storage is a different matter.

      This information leaks out and now every petty thief will know when to rob you. or where to kidnap you and sell you in to sexual slavery.

  6. Tony Barrett

    Unless someone actually has something to hide, and if you might find things slightly easier because of it, is this really a big problem for most? I was in the US a couple of weeks back, and not knowing where anything was, using Google maps and location tracking was amazingly useful. Lots of options, recommendations, easy navigation and contact details.

  7. Stooks

    Except for Youtube, it is very, very easy to rid your self of Google products.

  8. SvenJ

    I think it is just part of the current environment. You need to be more tech savvy than you used to be if you really want control over what you share. Not sure this is entirely limited to Google. Apple and MS both have (or had) a find my phone feature that would show where the device last was, even if it is currently off. That requires uploading and saving location data. There are likely other apps also accessing this info, with default permissions of course. Starbucks knows when I'm near one. I think the issue is more what is done with that particular data. Is it to support me in locally accurate responses, find my phone, etc. or is it primarily a resource for Google's other business to tap into, even if you have turned it off. If you go read Google's Terms of Service, you'll find you agreed to pretty much everything the minute you touch anything Google. The individual needs to determine for themselves if it is worth it.

  9. dcdevito

    I know a lot of people hate me when I say this, but location sharing doesn't bother me in the least. If I walk outside I am already telling the world I am out and about. You can be tracked by your carrier anyway, so I don't see the big deal. I do understand that it is very sneaky of them to do this, so I totally understand why anyone would be upset by this for sure.

    • wright_is

      In reply to dcdevito:

      If you step outside, you are telling the people around you that you are out and about, not people half a world away.

      The problem is not the tracking per se, but that the not tracking option is deceitful. If you turn off tracking on the phone, you expect it to be off...

    • red.radar

      In reply to dcdevito:

      This is one fascet to a broader issue on who controls data and what your rights to it are.

      The problem is Google is not trust worthy in some peoples eyes so everything they do is scrutinized. And because they are a big and popular company they are made a target for political reasons.

      Same reason why during the Fall every half backed article has "apple" in it. They really are pushing a broader agenda but the headline with Apple, Amazon, Google or Microsoft makes its catchy for clicks.

      But your right...every marketing agency, telcom even your grocer has access to this type of info. The problem is how secure it is and who has rights to it.

      Not absolving google because there have been allegations that they will let anyone view your data if you are a "developer"

      but google does give a good dashboard allowing you to delete and control this information. So ... meh...

      • AnOldAmigaUser

        In reply to red.radar:

        The problem is not the data collection, but the two factor opt-out that is required.

        Turning off location sharing should do just that, from one setting. Deleting location data collected from other applications is, according to the article, not a simple step but a manual process that must be done for each item. It would probably be easier to nuke it all.

    • PeterC

      In reply to dcdevito:

      Hi dcdevito - ive one question for you. Are you happy for Law Enforcement or Criminal Justice Services to have access to your location history in the same manner google has? I ask as this is often a contentious issue for some. The fact legal authority has to be issued, often via court, for location history access always piques my attention when so many users are happy to let google know it all, but arnt happy for law enforcement o have access without asking. I appreciate theres different issue at play her between countries too. Im UK based and I assume your US based.

    • lvthunder

      In reply to dcdevito:

      You need to be able to easily turn that off and it really be off. Look at the fitness apps that reveled the secret location of military bases.

    • wunderbar

      In reply to dcdevito:

      Yea, I am 100% ok with the location tracking services because the value I get for them is worth it to me.

      However, that does not change the fact that if a user wants to turn them off, they should be able to. And it should be easy to find, and be one setting to change.

    • AnOldAmigaUser

      In reply to dcdevito:

      Agreed. The data helps the services do a better job, so there is a reason to allow the collection.

      However, the idea that turning off location services does not stop the tracking is exactly the thing that should have regulators taking Google back to the woodshed for some serious fines. Their practice is absolutely deceptive, and should be changed. There should also be an option to delete all location history, no matter where it resides, from a single point.

      • wright_is

        In reply to AnOldAmigaUser:
        Agreed. The data helps the services do a better job, so there is a reason to allow the collection.

        But if I have explicitly turned it off on my phone, I expect it to be off, not still on, because I didn't turn off an "unrelated" option on the website.

        What if I have a private and a company phone and I want it turned on on one device, but not on the other (E.g. the company doesn't want location tracking, but I want it private, or the other way around)?

  10. Peter Hultqvist

    Is this about receiving location data in the moment to generate location specific responses?

    Or is it about storing that data for longer time than needed to send the response?

  11. wright_is

    Looks like some data protection experts are saying this is ripening up to be the first GDPR test case.