Google stores location data even without consent: AP

Researchers at Princeton discovered that Google saves the location data of smart phones even if privacy settings say otherwise.

Jonathan Benedek,

Google HQ in New York
Google HQ in New York
Serge Attal/Flash 90

The Internet giant Google records the movements of individuals even without their consent, according to a report by the Associated Press (AP).

Computer science researchers at Princeton discovered that Google saves the location data of smart phones even if the privacy settings say otherwise.

“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,” says Jonathan Mayer, a computer scientist at Princeton and a former chief technologist for the Federal Communications Commission’s enforcement bureau.

“That seems like a pretty straightforward position to have.”

Location History allows Google to remember the places where an individual has been. According to Google, “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

AP’s exclusive report suggests otherwise, that even with “Location History” turned off, Google apps can still store location data without consent. For example, Google can store location markers through its Maps app and weather updates. The difference between “Location History” and the other apps is that the former records an individual’s “timeline,” or a visualization of daily travels.

A spokesperson from Google conceded to AP that the Internet giant could collect location data through a variety of programs, which the representative said was for the benefit of users.

“There are a number of different ways that Google may use location to improve people’s experience, including: Location History, Web and App Activity, and through device-level Location Services,” the spokesperson 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.”

Deleting the location markers can be performed by hand at, but it may also be a time consuming process. Moreover, the location markers are usually stored under different headers that have no relevance to location.

The AP provided a visual map of the movements of Princeton postdoctoral researcher Gunes Acar, who carried an Android phone with “Location history” turned off.

According to Google, in order to prevent the company from saving these location markers, another setting called “Web and App Activity” should be turned off.