If you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you might not know that Google is able to track your location and gather information about you at any given moment when you’re using your smartphone – not just when you’re using Google Maps. Nevertheless, living under a rock might just be one of the best ways to stop the tech giant from accessing personal information about you and using it to their advantage.
Wait, why should I care about blocking Google from tracking me?
If you’re wondering why this may be so important to so many people, simply type into your browser “Google location tracking investigations” and you will find out why. Here’s the short version: Google promised smartphone users that if you turn off the “location history” setting on your device, they would no longer be able to track your location and use that information for their benefit. However, a damming investigation by the Associated Press found that that was not true. Google is still able to collect and store users’ data and geolocations – a gross violation of your privacy used for corporate means, especially if you have specifically turned off your location tracking setting (Just last year, Google’s ad revenue jumped by 20 percent to $95.4 billion thanks to location-specific advertising).
The violation has resulted in a number of state attorneys general in the US and European Union officials filing lawsuits against Google. The search engine company has already been fined a whopping $5 billion for breaking Europe’s antitrust laws, and is currently being investigated for its continuous use of location tracking on devices that have turned off their location history setting.
Okay, I want to completely block Google from tracking me. How?
Now that you know, you can make an informed choice on how you can stop, or just minimise, how much of your life you’re giving to Google so that they can make money.
Turning off your location history will only stop Google from adding your location to its Google Maps Timeline, however, as we mentioned above, it still collects, stores and uses your geolocations. In order to stop this, you’ll need to access a far more well-hidden, vaguely-worded setting on your device: Web & App Activity. After going into the setting and selecting ‘off’, a warning message will pop up asking you to confirm that you are pausing your web and app activity. Click pause. Think you’re done? Nope. Then you need to access the Activity Controls Dashboard in your actual Google account. Here, you will need to toggle off Location History yet again. Now you’re finally freeeee!
So, why doesn’t turning off the Location History settings work in the first instance?
Well, unfortunately, it’s in the fine print that even when you turn off Location History, Google’s other apps, settings and services automatically collect location data. For example, any time you enter a word into your Google browser, it automatically picks up where the query is coming from, right down to the name of your road. Any time you use Wi-Fi (in public or not), Bluetooth, GPS or cell phone signal towers, Google gets your location.
iOS users are not immune. If you use the Google Maps app, a gmail account or have set Google as your default browser on your iPhone, then guess what? Google’s got you like a rabbit in a hat. Also, if you go into your settings, click into your Google Maps app – you will see that it asks you to provide your location “always”, “never” or “whilst using the app”. If you don’t manually change this, it stays on “always”.
Following the above steps will stop Google from accessing and using your location to their advantage, however, if you’re an Android user, you will find just how less useful your smartphone suddenly becomes. Since Android is Google’s exclusive operating system, limiting your location history settings will inadvertently limit the capabilities of your phone. At the end of the day, whether you’re an Android user or an iOS lover, it’s your choice.