Google Clarifies It Tracks User Location Even after ‘Location History’ Is Disabled

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Earlier this week, a report from Associated Press highlighted how Google continues to track the location of iOS users despite them turning off location history. The revelation led to Google receiving a flurry of criticism, though the company was quick to issue a statement clarifying why it collects location data of iOS users even with ‘Location History’ turned off.

As AP found out in its report in association with researchers from Princeton, Google continued to store the location data of iOS users even after they turned off Location History. The company managed to do this whenever a user opened Google Maps or any other Google service (e.g. Google search) that required their location to work properly. The company collected and stored this data for users who had the “Web & App Activity” setting turned on.

Now, Google has updated the description of Location history on its website to reflect that despite the feature turned off, it will collect the location data of its users. The page now states that this “setting does not affect other location services on your device” and mentions that “some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other services, like Search and Maps.”

The previous description read: “With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

Google has also issued a statement to AP about the change in the description for improved clarity.

“We have been updating the explanatory language about Location History to make it more consistent and clear across our platforms and help centers,” Google spokesperson.

While a step in the right direction, Jonathan Mayer, a Princeton computer scientist, believes that Google is still trying to create confusion among users by having multiple settings for storing location information of users.

“The notion of having two distinct ways in which you control how your location data is stored is inherently confusing,” he said Thursday. “I can’t think off the top of my head of any major online service that architected their location privacy settings in a similar way.”

Our Take

Given that Google’s primary business is selling targeted ads, it is not surprising that it has multiple ways to track them down. While the updated description is definitely a step in the right direction, it is clearly not sufficient. But since Google’s business model relies on tracking its users, the company is unlikely to provide users with a single toggle to completely stop the tracking of their location.

[Via AP]