Following an investigation from the Associated Press, Google has changed some information on one of their help pages which had not properly described how its “Location History” setting operates. The update clarifies that the operating system does still, in fact, track location even when users turn the setting off.
For example, the Associated Press investigation learned that even when you turn Location History off, Google will continue to store your user locations when you open the Google Maps app or when you perform a Google search that is not location-related. Also, any automated searches for local weather will also store your phone’s location; at least, this is true for a handful of Android devices (but, perhaps, not all of them).
In response, Google has also noted it is trying to be more clear about how it tracks users within certain mobile applications. Acknowledging the change, the tech giant said (via a spokesperson): “We have been updating the explanatory language about Location History to make it more consistent and clear across our platforms and help centers.”
The update now states, “This setting does not affect other location services on your device, like Google Location Services and Find My Device. Some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other services, like Search and Maps.”
The uproar over Google’s location history tracking is really just one of many examples of the heavy scrutiny tech giants face today in regards to their data-devouring business practices. Facebook, for example, received a lot of criticism over just one incident—the Cambridge Analytica scandal—which found that 87 million users of the social network had their personal information co-opted by a UK-based digital consulting firm tied to the Trump US presidential campaign.
And, of course, this is not Google’s only controversy regarding mobile apps. Just last month, for example, it was reported that the employees of third-party developers could actually read your Gmail inbox. At the time of the incident, Google responded that this practice is actually covered by their terms of service.
Princeton computer scientist, and former FCC enforcement bureau chief technologist, Jonathan Mayer comments that the rephrasing is only a step in the right direction, but does not necessarily fix the underlying problem. He explains, “The notion of having two distinct ways in which you control how your location data is stored is inherently confusing. I can’t think off the top of my head of any major online service that architected their location privacy setting in a similar way.”