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Google Maps forces you to share location data, but it’s not as bad as it sounds

Updated Sep 21st, 2021 7:50AM EDT
Google Maps Location
Image: Google

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If you use Google Maps to get around, you probably know that Google has to access your location information. That’s the only way that it can offer turn-by-turn navigation and direction features. That’s always been the case, and that’s how all navigation apps work. But Google’s history with handling location information hasn’t been all that great. A few years ago, researchers found that Google collected user location data even when the user thought they prevented such data collection. A recent lawsuit showed that Google went to great lengths to make it harder for users to block Google’s access to location information.

But Google has been pivoting towards a “privacy by design” mantra in recent years, and that covers everything, including turn-by-turn navigation data. Next time you go into Google Maps to initiate your next navigation experience, the app might force you to agree to share location data with Google. Refuse, and the turn-by-turn navigation feature will not work. But you don’t have to panic. There’s a good reason why Google wants your location information from your Google Maps drives.

Update with clarifications from Google at the end of this post.

The new Google Maps location prompt

The new Google Maps prompt will appear on your navigation screen informing you that Google collects location data related to the route you choose to improve real-time traffic information — via 9to5Google:

As you navigate, Google collects details, such as GPS location and the route you took. This data may be used to make information, including real-time traffic conditions and disruptions, visible to others and help them find the fastest route.

Your only options are to agree to the data collection by clicking Start. You can always cancel your trip, in which case Google won’t have access to the location data.

As much as you might hate Google for tracking your location at all times, this is not the case to panic. This is the kind of Google Maps data you’ve always shared with Google.

Why sharing turn-by-turn navigation data with Google matters

One of the great things about apps like Google Maps and Waze is that they can help you avoid heavy traffic. Or they can offer alternate routes when your desired one faces delays. One of the things that makes these features possible is crowdsourced information.

Google gets real-time information from everyone using Google Maps for navigation purposes. That’s one way to determine how heavy traffic is and suggest other routes.

Location and route information from other people lets Google inform you about the traffic issues along the way. When you’re in traffic, using Google Maps turn-by-turn navigation, your location data will help other drivers who are coming behind you.

What’s different is that Google now has to ask for your permission to use that information. That’s because Google takes privacy more seriously than before.

Google Maps navigation privacy

There’s no point blocking Google Maps from crowdsourcing your location data. You might be better off using a different navigation app, if you’re uncomfortable. But that only means someone else will track you. There’s no other way to offer smart traffic features in navigation apps.

Google put up a new support document that explains how it uses the Google Maps turn-by-turn navigation location data.

Google reiterates that it needs GPS location, transportation mode, navigation route, and sensor data to improve navigation. The data helps Google suggest alternate routes and offer real-time updates like traffic, disruptions, and weather conditions.

Importantly, Google says that it won’t associate navigation data with your Google account:

Navigation data, such as the route you took, isn’t associated with your Google Account. Instead, it’s associated with a securely generated identifier that resets on a regular basis. That means Maps can’t look up your navigation data based on your Google Account.

Google explains in the same document that it may tie other data from Google Maps to your account. But you can configure Location History and Web & App Activity to remove the data.

UPDATE: Google reached out to BGR to explain that it never forces users to share location data. Features like Location History is off by default. It’s up to users to turn it on. Google says the same goes for the new prompt. Its purpose is to educate people about how navigation data works and how it helps make Google Maps more useful.

Google also said that tapping cancel would only disable turn-by-turn navigation. Step-by-step directions will still work inside the app, appearing as a list. But it’s the turn-by-turn voice navigation feature that consumers looking for navigation apps want most.

Finally, the company also emphasized that it developed stronger privacy and transparency features to give users more information and control over their data. This includes auto-delete controls for Location History and more privacy features in apps like Maps. Also, this privacy policy page explains how Google uses location data.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.