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Google location tracking: Turn it off for real

A new report indicates that even when you disable Location History, your phone might still be storing location data. Here's how to stop it.

Google Maps on an iPhone.
NurPhoto/Getty Images

Google is watching you. That's what everyone says half-jokingly about the search giant, which has often been accused of Big Brother-style monitoring of your searches, voice activity and location.

Now it appears that even if you manually disable Google Location History, Google Maps and other apps may retain data about your whereabouts. That's according to an AP report published earlier on Monday.

google-activity-controls-web-and-app-activity

The Web & App Activity toggle will fully disable Google location tracking, but good luck finding it unless you know exactly where to look.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Although Google maintains that such location-tracking features are intended to improve your experience. But that notion is at odds with the definition of "off," said Princeton computer scientist Jonathan Mayer. "If you're going to allow users to turn off something called 'Location History,' then all the places where you maintain location history should be turned off," he said.

Feel free to disable Web & App Activity on Android, but keep in mind you'll lose out on a lot of location-based services.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Indeed, even when Location History is toggled off in your Google account settings, AP discovered, actions like searching for something in your browser, checking automatic weather updates and opening Google Maps will record your location. Princeton researchers were able to verify AP's claims.

If you want to fully disable location tracking (which, keep in mind, will limit certain apps' location-driven capabilities), you need to disable another setting called Web & App Activity.

On Android: Venture into Settings, then tap Google > Google Account > Data & personalization. Now tap Web & App Activity and toggle the setting off.

On desktop (also for iOS): Open Google in a new tab, sign into your account if you're not already signed in, click your profile picture (upper-right corner) and then click Google Account. Now click Personal info & privacy > My Activity, then click Activity controls in the lefthand toolbar. Click the Web & App Activity toggle to turn it off. While you're at it, make sure Location History is toggled off here as well.

It bears noting that unless you're involved in a murder investigation, Google's location tracking has largely altruistic motives: providing personalized experiences, location-oriented recommendations and so on. Heck, it's how Google is able to serve up weather reports based on where you are. Of course, it's no doubt used for marketing and advertising purposes as well.

If that bothers you, now you can opt out -- for real.

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