Tuesday, 14 August 2018 10:56

Location, location: Google snoops even when it's turned off

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Location, location: Google snoops even when it's turned off Pixabay

Google does not respect its own settings as far as location is concerned, and continues to record movements even after the Location History setting is turned off for its services, a report says.

An Associated Press report said it had examined Google services on both Android devices and iPhones and found that turning off Location History had no impact at all.

The company's support page says: “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

But the AP found that this was a lie and even with Location History turned off, some Google apps store time-stamped location data.

Opening the Maps app results in storing a snapshot of where the user is at that moment. Automatic daily weather updates also provide a rough picture of where the user is.

And some searches which have nothing to do with location store a user's latitude and longitude in his or her Google account.

But Google denied that it was being misleading. “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,” a Google spokesperson told the AP.

“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.”

The company says users should turn off Web & App Activity in order to avoid their location being tracked.

Commenting on the tracking, Sean McGrath, a cyber security expert at BestVPN.com, said: “You’d think that at some point we’d hear stories like this one and not be surprised. Yet here we are, once again, outraged that a technology giant is surreptitiously mining our data.

"We need to wake up and smell the digital coffee. Google’s entire business model is based on gathering as much personal data as possible and then finding ways to monetise that data. It has built a world-class portfolio of tools that are 100% free at the point of use. Google doesn’t give away Gmail, Maps, Street View, Android and YouTube out of some profound sense of altruism. The business spends billions on building these free services in the hope that they become ingrained in your life.

"And in return, all they ask for… is your personal data.

"It’s a transaction, pure and simple, and it’s one that we all signed up for the moment we started using the company’s technology. So, in a sense, Google is just fulfilling its end of the bargain and we really don’t have the right to be surprised.

"There are a number of measures that can be taken to condense your digital footprint and reduce the amount of data these providers are able to harvest; but the cold truth is, the only way to fully prevent Google from gathering data – is to not use Google.

"We need to do some soul-searching and ask ourselves what our personal data is really worth. Only then can we make an informed decision about whether these free services represent good value for money.

"But if you must continue to use Google, using a VPN can help protect your personal information. It’s also a good best practice to regularly delete your Google search history.”

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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