Anyone with an Android smartphone can never be sure of their absolute privacy as Google has the power to access their location information on Android. This intrusion of the search engine giant, however, can be stopped by changing a few settings.
Google has many ways to know your location
Google has a feature known as location timeline in the Android phones under the device location settings. The feature talks about the locations of the phone, and can be turned into a map showing the user’s movements over time. Some users look forward to such features as it helps them in tracking mileage and distance. Also, it helps Google in making the map experience more personalized.
Once turned off, the feature would no longer record the location in the history. However, users must remember that this is not a general location setting for any app or feature; rather it is just there to manage the location timeline. Turning off the feature would not limit the ability of other apps to track your location information on an Android phone.
Also, turning off the location timeline is no guarantee that your location information on Android is safe. A recent report from the Associated Press claims that Google does record the location information of the users even when the users opt out of it. Even though Google’s support page claims that “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored,” Google does store a snapshot of the location information using its other apps.
For instance, merely opening Maps gives your location information. Then, there are daily weather updates that roughly gauge the location of the user. Also, some searches such as “Kids science kits” mark your accurate latitude and longitude to the square foot and save it to the Google account, notes AP.
To demonstrate how it exactly works, Associated Press created a visual Map, tracking the movements of a Princeton researcher Gunes Acar, who turned off the location history on his Android phone. The map revealed his train commute around New York, as well as, his visits to the High Line park, Chelsea Market, Central Park, Hell’s Kitchen and Harlem. The map also revealed his home address.
You need to do it yourself
According to the AP report, the unethical surveillance could affect up to two billion Android and Apple devices that use Google maps or search. The report, which was verified by the researchers at Princeton University, has irked U.S. lawmakers.
After the evidence of the AP study, Democratic senator Mark Warner criticized the technology companies for having “corporate practices that diverge wildly from the totally reasonable expectation of their users.” Separately, Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone demanded comprehensive consumer privacy and data security legislation.
Google, in its defense, gave the usual statement that it offers a clear description for its tools and users have instructions in place to turn such features off. So, it is up to users to stop Google from accessing their location.
How to fully disable sharing location information on Android?
To stop such privacy intrusion, users need to turn off another setting called Web and App activity, which is enabled by default and does not mention location data.
“It seems pretty sneaky to me that Google continues to store location data, unless you both disable “Location history” and “Web & App Activity,” said security researcher, Graham Cluley, in a blog.
The settings have to be turned off through the web as these settings are account based. You can, however, use your smartphone to turn it off. On smartphones, the user needs to open the web browser and reach the Activity Control page of the Google account. The settings are placed at the top with the label Web & App activity and Location history.
All you have to do is turn off the specific permissions by flicking the blue switch. Also, there is a MANAGE ACTIVITY tab, which shows the information that each app has collected. The saved history of every category can be cleared from here.
Turning off the Location history would not affect the rest of the functioning of the phone except Google Maps along with a few Local Guides apps that are linked to it. Turning off the Web & Activity settings could result in the Google Assistant losing most of its capabilities since it relies on the information of the users.