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Google tracks location data even when users turn service off, report finds

UPDATED: Mon., Aug. 13, 2018, 2:20 p.m.

Signage is displayed in front of Google Inc. headquarters in Mountain View, California on April 25, 2018. (David Paul Morris / Bloomberg)
Signage is displayed in front of Google Inc. headquarters in Mountain View, California on April 25, 2018. (David Paul Morris / Bloomberg)

Google’s smartphone services store users’ locations even when privacy settings are adjusted to shut these features off, according to a new report by the Associated Press.

While the company asks permission for users to share location information on its applications, it doesn’t halt tracking services when users pause Location History, according to the AP study. Google Maps, for instance, grabs information when a user so much as opens the app, and automatic daily weather updates on Android phones give an approximation of user location. Computer-science researchers at Princeton University confirmed the Associated Press’s findings.

Google’s official message is to promote user autonomy when it comes to deciding what information to share: “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored,” according to the company’s privacy page. But the AP says that isn’t true. Even pausing the Location History, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without permission, the AP found.

In a statement to the AP, Google said: “We provide clear descriptions of these tools, and robust controls so people can turn them on or off, and delete their histories at any time.”

Google didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg’s requests for comment.

The search engine giant, owned by Alphabet Inc., derives significant revenue through advertising, which is bolstered by user-generated data providing information useful to advertisers such as metrics on foot traffic. Google recently reported its advertising business grew 24 percent in the second quarter, pushing Alphabet’s total revenue minus partner payouts to $26.24 billion. Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai said recently that the company is exploring new ways to place promoted content and advertisements into its Map services.


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