Most people take for granted that, almost by default, their smartphones send their location to manufacturers and app developers unless they explicitly say no. Sometimes, however, “no” doesn’t actually always mean no. That’s the rather sticky situation that Google has suddenly found itself in after Associated Press launched an investigation on how the tech giant keeps on tracking your location even after you turn certain settings off. Now Google is updating its policy not to change the feature but to just let people know what it really does.
At the heart of this small controversy is Google’s Location History which, as the name suggests, keeps track of your location collected when you use certain Google services, notably Search and Maps. You can turn it off, just like any other privacy setting, and the previous wording, now only accessible via the Internet Archives, was simple and clear:
“You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored. When you turn off Location History for your Google Account, it’s off for all devices associated with that Google Account.”
Now, however, the text has changed to reflect what AP says Google was doing all along. Here’s the text, with emphasis on what’s new:
“You can turn off Location History at the account level at any time.
This setting does not affect other location services on your device, like Google Location Services and Find My Device. Some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other services, like Search and Maps. When you turn off Location History for your Google Account, it’s off for all devices associated with that Google Account.”
The first part of the change may be expected since you’d still want to be able to find locate your device, which requires Google to keep tabs on where your phone is. Others, however, may take issue with Google continuing to track device location for some services even after you told it not to. Search, Maps, and Google Location Services are explicitly named but there might be others as well.
The AP report doesn’t say if Google gave any explanation why it keeps on tracking. For some users and privacy advocates, it’s all about ads and profiting from those. For now, at least, Google has met the bare minimum legal requirement to not misrepresent what it’s collecting from users, whether users agree to its reasons or not.