The Internet lit up earlier this week with headlines all stemming from an Associated Press investigation that came to this creepy conclusion about Google: the search giant still tracks your location data even after you’ve essentially told it not to.
Now, Google has essentially confirmed that’s indeed what happens. The AP followed up that earlier story with a report today about revised language on a Google help page explaining how its “Location History” setting works. Google hasn’t changed the practice reported earlier this week, the AP makes clear, referring to its findings that several Google apps and websites store a user’s location even if they turn off Location History.
Per the AP, “its help page now states: ‘This setting does not affect other location services on your device.’ It also acknowledges that ‘some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other services, like Search and Maps.’ Previously, the page stated: ‘with Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.’
So there it is — confirmation. Google provided a statement to the news outlet about today’s report saying only that “We have been updating the explanatory language about Location History to make it more consistent and clear across our platforms and help centers.”
The AP got interested in taking a look at this issue, which lead to its hot-button finding earlier this week, after getting tipped off about it it from K. Shankari, a graduate researcher at UC Berkeley. She’d noticed a prompt on her Android phone asking her to rate a trip to Kohl’s, even though her location history was turned off. Naturally, she wondered how Google Maps knew she’d made the trip.
She wrote about that experience here, concluding that “data collection for web browsing and social media is currently under intense scrutiny, but smartphone sensors can be the source of even more privacy sensitive data, collected completely without human interaction. Issues around consent, control and trust are currently fuzzy in this domain due to the blurring of boundaries between the phone operating system (OS) and proprietary services.”
Lots of people, of course, are potentially affected by this. A few billion, in fact. There are the two billion or so who use Android devices, plus the hundreds of millions of iPhone users running Google map and search apps.