Google offers settings that allow you to choose whether you want the company constantly tracking your location or not. However, the search company isn’t crystal clear about the many ways it is keeping track of your movements.
Researchers at Princeton University, in partnership with the Associated Press, examined how Google tracks users even when they specifically opt out of location services. When logged into your Google account, the Location History setting allows you to toggle an option that records movements. When turned on, Google charts on a map all of the places you’ve visited and even offers recommendations based on where you go. When Location History is turned off, “places you go are no longer stored,” a Google support page says.
The report, which was published Monday, shows Google still tracks users’ movements. While the Location History feature may not collect your location, other Google services can. AP noted actions like having your Android phone fetch weather updates sends Google a rough idea of your locale. And Googling “chocolate chip cookies” can send the company precise longitude and latitude information.
“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,” Jonathan Mayer, Princeton computer scientist, told AP. “That seems like a pretty straightforward position to have.”
According to Google, users are aware that when turn location tracking off in one place, that their location will be tracked in another place. “We make sure Location History users know that when they disable the product, we continue to use location to improve the Google experience when they do things like perform a Google search or use Google for driving directions,” a Google spokesperson told Mic in an email.
How to limit Google’s ability to track your every move
You may not be able to fully prevent Google from knowing your location if you use its services, but there is an added step you can take for privacy.
In addition to turning off Location History here, turning off Web and App Activity will help too. According to Google’s support page for the feature, “When Web & App Activity is on, Google saves information like ... your location, language, IP address, referrer and whether you use a browser or an app.”
Toggling the button to the right of “Web & App Activity” to off will pause the location services Google receives from its other apps and services like Google Maps and Google Search.
Aug 14, 2018, 12:00 p.m. ET: This story has been updated