Google is facing a brand-new privacy controversy, following the news that it was tracking the whereabouts of its users, even when they’d turned Location History off.
A report from the Associated Press, which has been confirmed by researchers from Princeton University, found that Google would track smartphone users in at least three different ways, even if they’d specifically requested for their GPS location history to not be stored. These were:
Taking a ‘snapshot’ of a user’s location when they first open the Maps app.
Collecting data from Android users who used Google mapping for their weather updates.
Google searches (that had nothing to do with location) still pinpointing exact latitudes and longitudes of where the search was made.
To prove the theory, Princeton researchers gave researcher Gunes Acar an Android device with Location History switched off. However, a map was still created by Google showing everywhere Acar had been, including his commute to work, where he visited in his free time, and even his home address.
The crux of the issue concerns the precise wording of Google’s Location History tool. As cyber security expert Graham Cluley wrote: “You would think that telling Google that you didn’t want your location to be tracked by disabling an option called “Location History” would stop the internet giant from storing data about your location.”
However, to stop the three additional ways for Google to record GPS coordinates, users also need to disable both Location History and Web & App Activity – a move that Cluley called “pretty sneaky”.
In response, Google asserted that it has clear instructions available to all users who want to turn off such data harvesting. It claimed that all Google tools are described clearly and thoroughly, as are the steps each user needs to take if they want to disable any of them.