Google clarifies its location tracking help page for confused users

17 Aug 2018

Google Maps on mobile device. Image: Piotr Swat/Shutterstock

While Google hasn’t changed how its location tracking works, it has edited a help page explaining the system.

Google has revised an inaccurate description of how its Location History setting works. It now lets users know that tracking still occurs even if they disable the feature.

The update comes following a report earlier in the week that users are still monitored even when Location History is paused.

Google location tracking needed clarification

Following the investigation, Google’s help page for Location History now states: “This setting does not affect other location services on your device.” It adds that some location information may be saved “as part of your activity on other services, like Search and Maps”.

Prior to the edit, the page said: “With Location History off, the places you go are no longer shared.” The feature only controls whether location tracking appears on the timeline of your Google account.

Google told the Associated Press that it has been “updating the explanatory language about Location History to make it more consistent and clear” in its platforms and help centres.

A few days prior, Google had said that, in part, it provides “clear descriptions of these tools”.

Change in wording may not be enough

Princeton computer scientist Jonathan Mayer said that while the change in wording was a positive step, it still does not address the confusion Google created by storing location data in a number of ways. “I can’t think off the top of my head of any major online service that architected their location privacy settings in a similar way.”

The page amendment also makes no mention of the ‘Web & App Activity’ setting, which can be used to stop recording location data entirely. Even with this, there is a caveat. Google said: “Even when this setting is paused, Google may temporarily use information from recent searches in order to improve the quality of the active search session.”

The general public are more aware of the data collection practices of large technology companies than ever before. The implementation of GDPR and the recent announcement of strict new privacy rules in California will continue the conversation.

Google Maps on mobile device. Image: Piotr Swat/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects