Google Stores Location Data without Users’ Knowledge
Google’s services record users' location data even if settings have been manually adjusted to shut these features off, according to a report from the Associated Press. The problem could affect approximately two billion devices that use Google’s services.
An investigation report from the Associated Press published Monday discovered that some of Google’s services are tracking users' location data without many users’ knowledge. When using a service like Google Maps, Google will ask users to grant access to their iPhone or Android phone's location data. By clicking “I agree,” the user gives consent to Google Maps to record private location history and display the location history on a timeline so that users can view their daily routines.
On a Google support page, the company explicitly states that “[users] can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored." However, according to the investigation report, this is no longer true.
Some Google apps, such as Google Maps and Weather app, automatically record location the moment they are launched, and continue to do so even if they are paused. According to the Associated Press, some Google services are able to “pinpoint your precise latitude and longitude — accurate to the square foot — and save it to your Google account” by using even non-location-related data.
In a response to the controversy, a Google spokesperson said, "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." But even if such unsolicited location-tracking is done for the interest of the user, it is still disconcerting that the statement leaves room for other, unlisted means of location tracking.
A Google spokesperson said in an email statement last Thursday, "We have been updating the explanatory language about Location History to make it more consistent and clearer across our platforms and help centers.” The question remains as to whether Google will amend these privacy issues with updated options provided to consumers.