The year of privacy and data concerns continues: According to an AP investigation published today, Google continues to store information about the whereabouts of Android and iPhone users, even after those users turn off the search engine's Location History. This is counterintuitive, since as the AP points out, Google's Location History support page states that turning off the service means "the places you go are no longer stored."
The AP, whose findings were corroborated by researchers at Princeton, learned that turning off Location History only stops your location from being added to your daily Google Maps Timeline. Meanwhile, another feature, called Web and App Activity continues actively recording your location.
In response to the report, a Google spokesperson provided the following statement:
"Location History is a Google product that is entirely opt in, and users have the controls to edit, delete, or turn it off at any time. As the story notes, we make sure Location History users know that when they disable the product, we continue to use location to improve the Google experience when they do things like perform a Google search or use Google for driving directions."
In order to stop location tracking altogether, you will need to "pause" both your Location History and Web and App Activity.
To do so, sign in to your Google Account online and go to Activity Controls. Toggle off both Location History and Web and App Activity. In order to delete all of the data already saved in your Web and App Activity, you'll need to go to the My Activity page. As you scroll through, you'll see everything from recent communications you've had with the Google Assistant to what you searched for on Gmail and Google and the number of times you used Instagram. To remove each piece of saved data, you need to go through one by one, tapping the three dots in the corner and selecting "delete".
The AP's investigation was prompted by a blog post published back in May by K. Shankari, a graduate researcher at UC Berkeley. Shankari first started looking into the issue in July 2017, when, she recounts, Google Maps asked her to rate her visit to Kohl's: She had not used Maps to get there, and had her Location History turned off. "So how did Google Maps know where I was?" she asks in the post.
At the heart of Shankari's post and the AP's report is the issue of transparency, which is one that has been heightened in a post-Cambridge Analytica ecosystem. Users want, and have a right to know, when and how their data is being stored in the clearest terms possible — plus, what it’s being used for.
This piece has been updated to include comment from Google.