How to slow Google Sensorvault from tracking your location on iOS, Android
Learn how to disrupt Google Maps and Google Location History from tracking your every movement.
Rick BroidaSenior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Not only is Google Maps tracking you, but a program called Google Sensorvault is potentially turning over your location data to law enforcement, according to a report from The New York Times. We'll show you how you make it more difficult for Google or at least not hand over the most granular data.
Keep in mind that a 2018 Associated Press investigation reported that even if you manually disable Google Location History, Google Maps and other apps may retain data about your whereabouts.
"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.
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.
Watch this: Turn off Google location tracking for real