Google reportedly continues to store users’ location data even on phones that have privacy settings set to prevent that kind of tracking.
According to a new report from the Associated Press, an investigation has found that many Google services on both Android and iPhone devices store your location data even if you’ve used privacy settings.
The investigation, performed by the Associated Press alongside Princeton University researchers, found that users are being misled by Google’s claim that for those who turn off Location History “the places you go are no longer stored.” In fact, even with Location History turned off, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking.
“For example, Google stores a snapshot of where you are when you merely open its Maps app,” reads the report. “Automatic daily weather updates on Android phones pinpoint roughly where you are. And some searches that have nothing to do with location, like ‘chocolate chip cookies,’ or ‘kids science kits,’ pinpoint your precise latitude and longitude—accurate to the square foot—and save it to your Google account.”
In order to fully turn off location tracking, users must adjust settings in “web and app activity,” not only “location services,” and even then it is difficult to prevent the phone from recording users’ whereabouts, according to the report.
“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,” said Google in a statement. “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.”
While Google’s statement may be technically correct, the issue is that so many of the company’s services track your location, it’s virtually impossible for the user to know just how many services they need to disable to regain their privacy.
“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,” says Jonathan Mayer, a Princeton computer scientist and former chief technologist for the Federal Communications Commission’s enforcement bureau. “That seems like a pretty straightforward position to have.”