Increased scrutiny over privacy concerns have led to tech companies promising more transparency and control to their users regarding the collection, storage, and usage of their data. But a new report from the Associate Press reveals that Google is tracking customers’ locations through their phones even when those features are turned off.
The Associated Press dropped an exclusive report on Monday about an investigation into Google’s data privacy practices. Their investigators found that despite offering a feature that allows users to “pause” any recording of their location history on Android devices and iPhones, the company is nonetheless still collecting location data from most of those phones. AP estimates that nearly 2 billion Android users and hundreds of millions of iPhone users could be affected by this privacy issue.
While the Google support page states “With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored,” AP says this claim is not entirely accurate. They found that many apps, such as Google Maps and weather updates, still snapshot and store user locations even with the Location History feature turned off. In order to fully remove their data, AP found, users need to also disable the “Web and App Activity” storage feature and to manually delete stored locations.
AP asked researchers at Princeton to confirm their findings. Jonathan Mayer, whose lab replicated AP’s results on multiple Android devices, says that Google needs to be more clear with its users about how their data is being tracked: “If you’re going to allow users to turn off something called ‘Location History,’ then all the places where you maintain location history should be turned off. That seems like a pretty straightforward position to have.”
Gunes Acar, a Princeton postdoctoral fellow, gave AP access to his Google account in order to create a map of all the locations his Android phone stored while the Location History feature was turned off.
Critics say that tech companies have a financial interest in collecting user data, with AP noting that Google “is pushing further into such location-aware tracking to drive ad revenue, which rose 20 percent last year to $95.4 billion.”
To read more on this story, go to AP.