How to track where Google’s tracking you

A smartphone displays a user’s travels in New York. An Associated Press investigation showed that using Google services on Android devices and iPhones allows the search giant to record your whereabouts. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Turning off the location tracking on your phone isn’t enough to stop Google from receiving any information about where you are, an Associated Press investigation revealed this week. Even if someone goes into their Google account settings to turn off a feature that logs their location, the AP reported, the tech giant still receives a fairly complete idea of where you are through other settings that aren’t as clearly labeled as collecting location information.

Google responded to the report, in part, by saying that its settings are clear and that people are able to change them at any time.

If you want to shut down or limit what Google collects from your phone, here are the places to check. Understanding the full extent of Google’s collection requires deeper digging through settings, not only on your phone but also on your Google account.

Your phone

One step you can take is to turn off location services on your phone. This not only prevents your device from actively sending your location to device or app makers, but also means that you won’t be able to use any location-based service at all. For those who prefer to only turn this option on when you need to use this feature, such as for navigating, then it’s a good idea to add location services to the quick settings menu on your smartphone to easily toggle it on and off.

To disable location tracking on an Android device, head to the “Security and location” section of your settings app, and tap “Location.” Depending on what version of Android you have, the steps may vary from there, but you should be able to find a setting that lets you switch this to “off.”

On an iPhone, head to the “Privacy” section of the Settings app and turn “Location Services” off.

Google account: Location History

If you don’t want to keep location services switched off at all times but want to limit what Google sees, there is the option to stop Google from keeping a comprehensive timeline of your whereabouts through the location history setting.

The AP investigation found that turning off location history alone won’t stop all of Google’s collection, because the company has put another location data collection control in another part of its account settings, but it’s still a setting to disable if you’re concerned about broadcasting your whereabouts to Google.

You can find this in your Google account settings online, by navigating to “Personal Info and Privacy” and then looking for “My Activity.” On an Android device, you can also use your settings app to access your account settings. In this case, activity will appear under a section called “Data personalization.”

Once there, the “Location History” section offers the option to turn the setting off, and also to review and delete the information Google has collected thus far.

Google offers the option to turn off location history for your whole account or just certain devices.

Google account: Web and App Activity

This is the real trove of information, where Google keeps not only location information from apps but also a variety of other information, such as browser or Google Maps searches you’ve made while logged into your Google account. It also keeps track of what devices you’ve used while logged into your Google account.

Again, you can find this menu either in your Android smartphone settings for your Google account — in the “Data Personalization” section — or by logging into the privacy settings of your Google account on a mobile or desktop site.

The system is designed to let you delete data by category or time period. If you want to delete what Google has collected on you already in this area, hit the three dots at the top and select “Delete.”

You can also turn off this tracking, but it will limit more than location collection. As Google itself will warn you, disabling this sort of tracking also limits the service’s ability to collect information on the places you go — which some may want for the convenience of storing commonly attended locations.

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